Over the weekend, high school basketball players across the country suited up for their AAU teams for the final time this summer. One of them was 2020 guard Donovan Williams from Lincoln (Neb.) North Star who picked up an offer from Nebraska on July 14.
Williams and Iowa Barnstormers Gold closed out the summer in Lawrence, Kans., at session two of the Hardwood Classic. The Barnstormers went 3-2 in the tournament, falling in the semifinals of the championship bracket. Williams started and scored in double figures in all five games.
Hail Varsity caught up with the 6-foot-5 Williams after the Barnstormers’ run in Lawrence came to end.
This was Williams’ first summer with the Barnstormers after previously playing for MOKAN Elite.
“It was a great experience,” Williams said. “The whole team is basically like family to me now. We won a lot of games, we lost a few, but overall I think it was a great experience. We traveled a lot, I got a lot of exposure to colleges and it was just like a family type of team.”
The Barnstormers, an Adidas-sponsored team, faced off against Nike-sponsored MOKAN Elite, William’s former team, in their first game of the tournament. The Barnstormers pulled out a 60-58 win behind 20 points on 7-of-14 shooting including 4-of-9 from 3, six rebounds and three assists from Williams.
“That was big for me,” Williams said about the win. “Things didn’t end so well with them so I had to get my point across that it was a big mistake and I think I did that.”
The Barnstormers beat Iowa Barnstormers-West 58-34 and All Akransas Red 58-49 in bracket play. Both of their losses came to All Iowa Attack Red, the first in super pool play, 70-64, with Williams cramping up and missing much of the second half and the second in the semifinals, 51-48.
Williams received his first Division I offer from Omaha on June 26, and others have followed since.
“The first one meant a lot to me just knowing that I don’t have to pay for school at all, no matter what happens,” Williams said. “That’s just a blessing because not many kids can say that. As soon as I got that one, that just told me I’ve got to keep working and that was just a motivational step for me and I’ve just been in the gym ever since.”
One of those offers came from Coach Tim Miles and Nebraska, his first high major offer.
“Right when he called me, I was just thinking we were going to talk for a bit and we’ll just go our ways, but then he said he that they’re going to offer me,” Williams said. “My heart kind of dropped because it’s just a big deal getting a Power 5 offer which I’ve been working for. Then they’re in my backyard, so it’s a big deal for me and my family. It’s just a big step for me in my journey in this whole basketball thing.”
Nebraska has built up a strong relationship with Williams, one of the best high school players in Lincoln who averaged 18.3 points for the Navigators as a sophomore. A few weeks before offering, the Huskers had Williams take an unofficial visit to see the facilities.
“If I can rate it one to 10, it would definitely be a 10,” Williams said about his visit. “Just the facilities and the nutritionist, the weight room, the gym — everything is just on point. It’s like nowhere else in the country that I’ve seen yet. The technology they have that the athletes can use on a day-to-day basis is just crazy. It was just a great experience for me and my family.”
Nebraska was a consistent presence in the coaches section at the Hardwood as assistant coach Michael Lewis was there for most of Williams’ games this weekend. Williams certainly noticed.
“People don’t understand this, but loyalty’s a big thing for me,” Williams said. “At the end of all this, at the end of the recruiting stage, the schools that weren’t here, I think they’re going to look back and wish they would have been there like Nebraska was because they’ve been there almost every single game. They text me every single day, checking up on me, because they just care about me. Not even about basketball, just being a normal person. That’s going to go a long way for me.”
Lewis is the lead recruiter for in-state prospects and Williams said the two of them have developed a strong relationship.
“He’s a coach, obviously, but on the other hand he’s kind of like a close friend of mine, almost like a teenager,” Williams said. “We just talk every day and I ask him how he’s doing, kind of personal. We’re real close and he’s taught me a lot.”
Williams, the younger brother of Wisconsin defensive lineman Bryson Williams, has a strong frame and solid athleticism which he uses to get to the basket and draw fouls as well as rebound at a high rate not he defensive end. This summer, he said he’s been focusing on polishing up his skills.
“Definitely shooting,” Williams said. “I was kind of like a streaky shooter. Some games I’ll be off, but I usually find a way to get through it. Obviously dribbling because I’m 6-5 and I play the one and the two. Just getting in the lane and being able to create for my teammates and coming to two feet is a big deal for me.”
Williams’ other offers in addition to Nebraska and Omaha are Texas-Rio Grande Valley, Bradley and South Dakota.
When might a return visit to Nebraska be in the works?
“Honestly, I’ll probably be there a few days upcoming this week just to hang out,” Williams said. “I usually just go up there to hang out and play video games with the team and stuff like that. I’ll be up there soon.”
Jacob is in his third year with Hail Varsity covering Husker athletics. He has also written extensively for SB Nation’s Bright Side of the Sun and The Creightonian. His love of basketball can best be described as an obsession and if you need to find him, he’s probably in a gym somewhere watching, coaching or playing hoops.