By Bob Sakamoto
April 5, 1998
What else is there for Frank Williams to do?The 6-foot-4-inch high school All-American point guard hoisted an entire basketball program on skinny shoulders, inspired an indomitable coach to dramatically alter his philosophy and singlehandedly added to the modern-day high school hoops dynasty that is Peoria Manual.
On a team that started five guards, Williams led the Rams in scoring (23 points a game), rebounding (eight), assists (six) and steals (four).
On defense, he was responsible for guarding the opposing center--including 6-11 Brian Cook of Lincoln, 6-9 Darius Miles of East St. Louis Lincoln and 6-8 Michael Wright of Farragut. When opponents pressed full court, it was Williams, with his incredible moves, who weaved around the traps.
But there is one final high school task. Williams will have to appear at the Illinois Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame Dinner April 25 in Normal to accept the Mr. Basketball of Illinois award.
Last year's winner, ex-Manual All-Stater and close friend Sergio McClain, is hoping to make the presentation.
Williams was the clear choice in balloting statewide of coaches and media for the honor in a year brimming with more deserving candidates than ever before.
Finishing right behind him were fellow All-Americans Corey Maggette of Fenwick and Quentin Richardson of Class AA champion Young.
There were years when Joey Range of Class AA runner-up Galesburg, Shawn Jeppson of Class A runner-up Spring Valley Hall or the dominating Wright would've been a popular selection.
In a senior class that Illinois-Chicago coach Jimmy Collins hailed as the best in 25 years, Williams emerged as its most valuable player.
"The night we beat Milwaukee Vincent, Frank just took over, said Manual teammate Robert Johnson. "He told us: `I'll carry all of you.' What did I think? I knew Frank would do it."
Williams keyed the 52-51 upset of the nation's ninth-ranked team with 25 points that included a buzzer-beating, game-winning three-pointer.
"Frank has the ability to take a team to another level," said Illinois coach Lon Kruger, who will welcome Williams to Champaign next season. "He can impact a game in so many different ways. He is the total package, and I see him playing either guard position for us."
One-on-one, nobody in America could stay with Williams.
At the McDonald's All-American Game March 25 in Norfolk, Va., Williams conjured up a trio of creative no-look, behind-the-neck passes that had the nation's finest schoolboy players shaking their heads in admiration.
Then there was the play of the year at the Rockford Showdown in January. A Milwaukee Vincent player had been trash-talking and challenging Williams all evening.
Late in the game, Williams found himself isolated with his antagonist. In the blink of an eye, Williams crossed over twice between his legs.
Then, he dribbled right through the Milwaukee player's legs, pulled up and nailed a 17-foot jumper.
"After we played against UConn freshman Khalid El Amin last year when he was in high school, I remember thinking that kid is going to the NBA," Vincent coach Tom Diener said. "After the Peoria Manual game, I was saying the same thing about Frankie Williams. He is the best high school player I have coached against in my 15 years."
The true measure of Williams' impact can be seen in the way Manual's Wayne McClain allowed him to fly solo every night.
McClain might be the most intimidating coach in the state, and he won four consecutive state titles by demanding discipline and teamwork.
But when he realized Manual's starting lineup included a 6-2 center and forwards that stood 6-0 and 5-11, his game plan was reduced to four words.
In Frank, we trust.
"I'm a big fan of Quentin Richardson, and Corey Maggette had quite a year," McClain said. "But nobody in America had to do more for his team than Frank. I've never put so much on one player.
"Quentin had Dennis Gates and Cordell Henry. Corey had Chris Williams. We had to get on Frankie's shoulders every night. I don't think we should've been within 15 points of Milwaukee Vincent. It took some great plays by Frankie to steal it."
The mini-Rams stole some hearts along the way in outhustling physically superior opponents and defying the experts with a 27-3 record before bowing out in the supersectionals.
"When I heard I had won Mr. Basketball, I was a little surprised--but I was happy," the laid-back Williams said. "My mother started jumping around, yelling and dancing. I've never seen her act like that before.
"Quentin had a great year, won the state championship, and I figured he would get it. If it wasn't him, I thought it would be Corey, for sure. I guess people just thought they had more help than I did."
It was Manual's opponents who needed help during a one-week stretch early in the season. That's when Williams scored 40 points in a victory over Farragut, 42 in a decision over East St. Louis Lincoln and 38 in a victory over Proviso West.
"When we got to Peoria, the local media asked me how I was going to defend Frankie," Proviso West coach Mark Schneider said. "Jokingly, I said we'll do our best to hold him under 40. How did I know that's what he was averaging at the time. That kid is an amazing basketball player."
And what a reunion Williams will have in the next two years at Illinois with former Manual four-peat teammates Sergio McClain and Marcus Griffin.
McClain, Williams and Corey Bradford will form a dynamite backcourt for the Illini next season, and the following year, the 6-9 Griffin will arrive at Champaign from Lincoln College. Griffin was the junior college player of the year in Illinois after averaging 25 points, 14 rebounds, six assists and six blocks.
"I told Frank he had to keep (the Mr. Basketball award) in the family," Sergio said. "I feel like Frank is the little brother I never had. Not winning the state championship again really hurt him, and I think this will console him a little bit."
Peoria has produced such stars as Howard Nathan, David Booth, Doug Altenberger, Mike Robinson, McClain and Griffin, and Peoria Central coach Charles Buescher would put Williams at the top of that list.
"It would be real close between Williams and Nathan," Buescher said. "Frank can beat you in so many ways, and has the uncanny knack of hitting big shots.
"He is a tremendous defensive player who steals the ball four times a game, and not many guys can guard a powerful postup player and a quick point guard with equal success.
"The guy hit 11 three-pointers in one game this season and when he wasn't scoring, he was attacking the boards. He has a presence, and totally understands the game. I'd be real surprised if he doesn't become a very good college player. At least now, I can root for him."
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