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Spring 2017
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Big Al’s Rising Sun

UCSB’s Rebounding Star Alan Williams Finds Family and Game Time in Phoenix

By John Zant ’68

The city of Phoenix, Arizona has been good to star Phoenix Suns center Alan Williams ’15, and his family.

Alan Williams, a native of Phoenix and one of the most popular UCSB basketball players of all time, has become a favorite Sun in his hometown. A surge of productive games with the Phoenix Suns has proven that the 6’8 big man (known as Big Al and Big Sauce) has the chops to be a longtime NBA player.

Williams is also a favorite son. His mother, Jeri Williams, was a highly ranked Phoenix police officer when he began his UCSB career in 2011. She was soon hired as the police chief in Oxnard, a move she made in part so she could attend her son’s Gaucho games. “She’s my best friend,” Alan Williams said. His father, Cody Williams Sr., remained on the bench as a justice of the peace in Phoenix but visited the Thunderdome as often as he could.

Big Al ended his college career in 2015 as UCSB’s all-time leading rebounder – for two years, he topped all NCAA Division 1 players in that category – but the bulky center was bypassed in the NBA draft. To pursue his professional basketball ambitions, he signed with the Qingdao DoubleStar Eagles of the Chinese Basketball Association, which took him far from home.

When Williams returned to the United States, the Suns offered him a provisional contract. He excelled in the NBA summer league – the leading rebounder again – and when the 2016-17 season began, he secured a guaranteed contract.

Meanwhile, the city of Phoenix was searching for a new chief of police, and who should it hire but Jeri Williams, the first woman and second African-American to assume that position. She was sworn in on October 28, 2016, and was introduced to an ovation at a Suns game two nights later.

“Mom is one of a kind,” Alan Williams said. “She has a tough job, but she gets through it with grace.” Since childhood, he has worried about her safety as a cop on the beat. To this day, she wears a bullet-proof vest for her son’s peace of mind.

Williams told Karen Crouse of The New York Times how his loyalty to the team threatened his relationship with his mother. In the wake of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand during the national anthem, the Suns raised the idea of staging their own demonstration against social injustice, including police brutality. “We talked about it at length,” Williams said, and if the consensus was that they’d engage in a form of protest, he said he would go along with it, most likely to Chief Williams’ chagrin.

The predicament was avoided when the players decided to deal with the issues through community outreach. When the national anthem is played, Williams stands respectfully with the rest of the Suns.

On the basketball court, Williams tries to emulate his mother by “being as professional as possible.” He shed 30 pounds and now weighs 260 – “less fat, more muscle,” he said – to improve his mobility. He saw little action the first four months of the season, although he was not content to sit on the bench. He was often leaping to his feet as the player/cheerleader.

He was the team’s ambassador to Mexican fans in January, when the Suns played two NBA Global Games in Mexico City. Williams had learned to speak Spanish growing up, and he addressed the crowds before the games.

When March came along, and some injuries thinned the Suns’ front line, Big Al got his chance to play and, boy, did he make the most of it. In the first five games of the month, he registered double-doubles – 16 points and 12 rebounds against Charlotte; 14 and 13 against Oklahoma City (he also blocked three shots in the win over the Thunder); 11 and 15 against Boston; 15 and 10 against Washington; and 16 and 10 against the L.A. Lakers.

“The kid is going to play 10-15 years in the NBA just off of hustle,” said Earl Watson, the Suns’ head coach . “He’s a great teammate.”

John Zant is the sports writer for The Santa Barbara Independent.