Nigel Williams-Goss knows the path forward is not always a straight line. It involves moves south, east and sometimes even a step back.
In high school, Williams-Goss uprooted himself from Portland to attend Findlay Prep in Nevada to further his basketball skills. Two years into his college career at the University of Washington, he decided it best to transfer to Gonzaga, even if it meant redshirting a year.
On Wednesday, his present meets his past when the eighth-ranked Bulldogs host the Huskies in the first scheduled game between the schools in a decade. Although the Bulldogs and Huskies matched up last season in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament (in a game won by Gonzaga, 80-64), this year marks the first of a four-year home-and-home series.
The resumption of the in-state rivalry between the schools puts Williams-Goss front and center of this game, even if he was not available to speak to reporters this week. Williams-Goss’ father, Virgil, said Sunday that his son has been trained for big games and high-pressure situations.
He put it like this: “You don’t circle games on your schedule, you play every game as though it is the game.”
“There’s more than just performing to being a pro,” he continued. “That was instilled in him at an early age. Everything that he tried to do is hopefully giving him the opportunity to reach his ultimate goal. Even transferring to Gonzaga, it’s a great opportunity for him to win at a high level in college.”
And Williams-Goss has done that so far with the 8-0 Bulldogs. He was instrumental in victories over San Diego State, Florida, Iowa State and Arizona, picking up WCC Player of the Week and Advocare Invitational MVP honors along the way. He is averaging 12.5 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists per game while shooting a career-best 46.2 percent on 3-pointers.
He has flourished alongside redshirt sophomore Josh Perkins in the Zags’ two-point-guard system — perhaps a flashier version of the Kevin Pangos and David Stockton duo, or a new-school update of Dan Dickau and Blake Stepp.
“I’ve been ecstatic about how Josh and Nigel have played in that two-point-guard system and the way that he’s been able to help our offensive flow in general, but especially the way that they’ve played off each other,” Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson said.
“And I think they’re both enjoying it.”
That wasn’t necessarily the case at UW. Although Goss had personal success — he averaged 13.4 points per game as a freshman and 15.6 points as a sophomore, earning second-team all-Pac-12 honors — the Huskies were barely a .500 squad during that time (a combined 33-30) and failed to make the NCAA Tournament.
In “Glory Hounds,” a book about the rise of Gonzaga basketball by Seattle Times staff writer Bud Withers, Williams-Goss explained his decision to leave Seattle for Spokane after the 2014-15 season.
“It’s one thing, I feel like, to lose, but it’s another thing when you’re not doing everything in your power, or your capability, as far as preparation in trying to win,” Williams-Goss said in an excerpt that appeared in The Seattle Times. “I just felt there were a lot of stones left unturned before games, and stuff like that. I had talked to past players, where they kind of had similar experiences. … I just felt it was best for me to move on.”
He left a Washington program in a state of flux, one of four players to transfer after the 2014-15 season — a list that included Jernard Jerreau, Darin Johnson and Gilles Dierickx, along with coach T.J. Otzelberger, who left for an a position at Iowa State.
In Williams-Goss, the Huskies seemingly lost the captain of the ship. Even today, UW coach Lorenzo Romar said he understands the reasons he cited for leaving.
“We also have to understand that the two years Nigel was here, especially his second year, was probably the worst two years that we’ve had,” Romar said on Monday. “In terms of what was going on, there were a lot of changes being made and we were going this way. But once we got established, I think those two years, especially the second year, were probably as dysfunctional as we’ve been since we’ve been here. If you want to take that time and decide if Washington was the best place to be, it probably wasn’t.”
Williams-Goss’ mother, Valerie, said Romar was “fair” in how he treated her son’s request to transfer, although he made it clear to Nigel that other Pac-12 schools were off-limits. On Monday, Romar said he did not place restrictions on where Williams-Goss could transfer.
“That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me,” Romar said. “Some coaches get all caught up in that. That doesn’t bother me.”
The transfer also meant Williams-Goss would have to sit out a year. According to his parents, his redshirt year was a blessing.
“Some players focus solely on basketball, some players look at it as a year off,” Virgil Williams-Goss said, “but Nigel looked at it as a year to focus on his academics and as well give his body a chance to rest because he’d been playing for so long.”
Aside from possibly being the most talented scout team point guard, he took a step back from basketball. He tended to an ankle injury, which required surgery, and stockpiled up on his coursework, while maintaining a 3.8 GPA.
“In all sincerity, from our family, there are absolutely no bad feelings toward UW,” Virgil Williams-Goss said. “We’re focused on the future, not the past.”
Staff writer Christian Caple contributed to this report.
Washington (4-3) at No. 8 Gonzaga (8-0)
8 p.m., McCarthey Athletic Center, Spokane
TV: ESPN2. Radio: 1000-AM, 97.7-FM.
All-time series: Washington leads, 29-15.
Statistics for 2016-17 unless otherwise noted:
5 Nigel Williams-Goss, G (6-3, jr.): 12.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg
13 Josh Perkins, G (6-3, so.): 13.1 ppg, 3.0 apg
4 Jordan Mathews, G (6-4, sr.): 9.1 ppg, 2.9 rpg
3 Johnathan Williams, F (6-9, jr.): 10.0 ppg, 5.5 rpg
24 Przemek Karnowski, C (7-1, sr.): 11.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg
20 Markelle Fultz, G (6-4, fr.): 22.7 ppg, 6.6 apg, 6.7 rpg
1 David Crisp, G (6-0, so.): 13.9 ppg, 1.6 rpg
4 Matisse Thybulle, G (6-5, so.): 11.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg
10 Malik Dime, F (6-9, sr.): 6.4 ppg, 4.7 rpg
15 Noah Dickerson, F (6-8, so.): 11.3 ppg, 7.1 rpg
Scouting report: Gonzaga is unbeaten through its first eight games, including victories over Florida, Iowa State and Arizona. … The Bulldogs are again the favorite to win the West Coast Conference title. They have played in 18 consecutive NCAA tournaments, and finished last season with a 28-8 record after advancing to the Sweet 16. Gonzaga is a 15 1/2-point favorite over the Huskies. … Williams-Goss, now Gonzaga’s starting point guard, spent the first two seasons of his career at Washington before deciding to transfer. He led the Huskies in scoring and assists as a sophomore, earning second-team All-Pac-12 honors. He redshirted last season per NCAA transfer rules. … Gonzaga’s balanced roster includes five players who average double-figures in scoring, led by the 13.1 points per game of guard Josh Perkins. Gonzaga also has four players who average between 4.6 and 5.8 rebounds per game. … The Bulldogs shoot 48.4 percent from the field and allow opponents to shoot only 38.9 percent. … In addition to the 7-foot Karnowski, the Huskies will have their hands full with 7-foot freshman Zach Collins, who averages 11.1 points and 5.8 rebounds per game in a reserve role. … Jordan Mathews, the former Cal guard, is probably GU’s best outside shooter and has made 17 of 46 from 3-point range so far — though Perkins leads the team with a 51.3 percent 3-point clip so far. Mathews graduated from Cal and was immediately eligible to play as a senior for GU this season. … KenPom.com ranks GU 12th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency and 29th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency. … UW and Gonzaga played each other in the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament in the Bahamas last year — Gonzaga won, 80-64 — but last played at one of the school’s campuses in December 2006, a 97-77 GU victory. The Huskies haven’t beaten Gonzaga since Dec. 4, 2005, a 99-95 victory in Seattle. Gonzaga star Adam Morrison scored 43 points in the loss. The Bulldogs have won nine of the last 10 meetings between the programs.
Christian Caple: firstname.lastname@example.org