C.J. Williams flourished in his final season at NC State.
First-year Wolfpack coach Mark Gottfried said he expected Williams to average at least 10 points per game this season, which — on the surface — was mildly surprising considering the senior had never averaged more than 4.7 points per contest his previous three years.
Williams came out of the shoots in the season opener with 18 points against UNC Asheville and has never looked back. He has helped his new coach look like a prophet with one of the biggest one-year improvements in the ACC this season.
Williams improved upon his average of 4.7 points per game last year, to 11.7 this season.
Williams shot 46.3 percent from the field, 22.2 percent from beyond the arc and 68.2 percent from the free throw line during his junior year. He has improved across the board in 2011-12, shooting 52.9 percent from the field, 35.8 percent from three-point range and 80.4 at the charity stripe.
Williams has also often been assigned the highest scoring wing defensively this season. It's a role he relishes, and his 6-foot-5, 224-pound frame often matches up well with a variety of offensive players.
The combination of the coaching change to Gottfried, having a clear-cut spot in the starting lineup and just plain hard work during the offseason has made for a breakout final campaign.
"I feel more confident," Williams said. "I feel like coach is putting in the trust with all of us. It has kind of opened up for all of us, and that is why guys are playing better this year."
Williams has been heavily influenced by his father, Wendell, and his mother, Delores. His parents and older sister, Tierra, have been fixtures at his games during his four-year career.
"I think he has missed two games the last four years, and that was only because he was moving from Fayetteville to Warner Robins, Ga.," Williams said of his father. "Those are the only two games he has missed since I've been in middle school. Both were home games."
Delores Williams has always been an NC State fan, but C.J. Williams grew up a North Carolina fan. His father, a Temple and Villanova fan, would take him to NCSU games at historic Reynolds Coliseum while growing up.
"I don't want to tell her age, but she's [been a fan] for a long time," Williams said. "She has always loved State. She is the type to just say, 'Hey C.J., just stick with it.' There were times during my career where I've been challenged mentally and have gotten to the point where [I thought], 'Is this what I want to do?' They've always told me to stick with it. I'm very glad to have that support."
Williams has a ritual involving his family before each game.
"I don't know if anybody knows this, but every game, I always look to see and make sure my family is there," Williams said. "There was actually a game last year where they weren't there until the third or fourth minute mark, and I didn't feel comfortable at all."
Wood has enjoyed getting to know Williams' parents over the years and receive their support.
"We've been through it all and our families are real close," Wood said. "It would be nice to send him out on a good note. The first person I get a hug from, even when my mom is here, is from Mrs. Williams. She's the first one to find me. She's been my second mom for me."
Warner Robins is roughly 450 miles away from the RBC Center, but that hasn't slowed the Williams family down in coming to see C.J. play. The family often drives an hour and a half up to Atlanta, flies to Raleigh, and then rises at 4:30 a.m. the next day to fly back for work.
"As I was raising my kids, if it was at all possible, I wanted to go to every single game," said Wendell Williams, who has worked for the Air Force for 28 years and has accumulated vacation time. "I wanted to be there to show my support for my son and as well as his team. I know the only two games I missed during his NC State career was the week that the Air Force relocated me from Fayetteville to Georgia. I missed two non-conference games that week."
The RBC Center (or PNC Center) will take on a different look next year if the Williams family isn't in their family half-court seats across from the team benches.
"Hopefully, I'll be playing somewhere professionally, and my sister has already told me wherever I'm going, she's going," Williams said. "If I have to go overseas, she'll be going with me and will watch me play."
Wendell Williams still would like to watch NC State play in the future, but admits it will be different with his son not playing.
"Next year is going to feel strange," Wendell Williams said. "It's been almost five years of going around and supporting the red and white of the Wolfpack. If the coaching staff allowed me to come around and support after C.J. is gone, I'll come back and support as much as I can."
Miami (17-10, 8-6 ACC) at NC State (18-11, 7-7 ACC)
Game time: Wednesday, Feb. 29, 9 p.m. — RBC Center, Raleigh, N.C.
Television: ACC Network
PG — 2 Lorenzo Brown (6-5, 189, Soph., 12.5 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 6.4 apg, 1.7 spg)
SG — 21 C.J. Williams (6-5, 224, Sr., 11.7 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 1.9 apg, 1.1 spg)
SF — 15 Scott Wood (6-6, 175, Jr., 12.3 ppg, 2.1 rpg, 1.8 apg)
PF — 5 C.J. Leslie (6-8, 209, Soph., 13.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg, 1.0 apg, 1.2 spg, 1.7 bpg)
C — 1 Richard Howell (6-8, 250, Jr., 10.8 ppg, 9.2 rpg, 1.2 apg, 1.0 spg)
PG — 0 Shane Larkin (5-11, 160, Fr., 7.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg, 2.6 apg, 1.5 spg)
SG — 3 Malcolm Grant (6-1, 188, R-Sr., 11.2 ppg, 2.3 rpg, 2.0 apg)
G — 1 Durand Scott (6-5, 202, Jr., 13.1 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 3.2 apg, 1.1 spg)
PF — 35 Kenny Kadji (6-11, 251, R-Jr., 13.0 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.8 bpg)
C — 42 Reggie Johnson (6-10, 284, R-Jr., 10.6 ppg, 6.9 rpg, 1.5 apg, 1.0 bpg)
Location: Coral Gables, Fla.
2010-11 record: 21-15 overall, 6-10 ACC
2011 postseason: Lost 79-64 at Alabama in the quarterfinals of the NIT Tournament
Coach: Jim Larranaga 486-344 (28th year) and 17-10 at Miami (first year)
Series: NC State leads 8-4
Last meeting: NC State won 78-73 on Jan. 22, 2012, in Coral Gables
Miami: Johnson missed the Hurricanes last game against Florida State on Feb. 26 due to NCAA suspension after the previous coaching staff gave Johnson's family impermissible benefits. The Winston-Salem, N.C., product had been in a mini-slump of late. He went a combined 9 for 23 from the field over his previous four games for 24 points (8.0 points per game average). Johnson missed the first nine games of the season after an offseason knee injury … Kadji, a Florida transfer, has blossomed in his first season at Miami. He has scored in double figures in every ACC game he has played in, and had 20 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots in the loss to NC State. He had 15 points, five blocks, four assists and three rebounds in the 78-62 win over FSU while playing exclusively at center in Johnson's absence … Larkin sparked Miami's second half comeback against NC State, and moved into the starting lineup the next game Jan. 24. The son of MLB Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, he has scored in double figures in seven games this season, and has had at least four assists in eight … The move of Larkin to the starting lineup has coincided with Missouri-Kansas City transfer Trey McKinney-Jones going to the bench. The 6-5, 216-pound junior wing has scored in double figures in three out of his last four games … Grant, like Kadji and McKinney-Jones, also transferred to Miami from a four-year school. Grant played his freshman year at Villanova in 2007-2008, where he played against NC State in the Old Spice Classic championship game at Disney World. Grant has struggled with his shot this season, going from shooting 42.3 percent from three-point land last year to 30.8. He has been held to single digits for the last seven games … Scott has also been playing better since the NC State game, where he was held to eight points on 4 of 11 shooting. The versatile combo guard has scored in double figures in eight of his last nine games, and has been active on the boards this season. He has grabbed at least six rebounds in 15 games. He has a season-high 24 points against Maryland Feb. 1, plus added eight rebounds and seven assists in the 90-86 victory … Senior forward DeQuan Jones played with NCSU junior center Richard Howell at Marietta (Ga.) Wheeler … Junior wing Garrius Adams, who picked Miami over NC State, South Carolina and others, has come off the bench the last three games. He attended Apex (N.C.) Middle Creek High. Senior center Julian Gamble of Durham and freshman shooting guard Bishop Daniels of Raleigh are both redshirting this season. Daniels played with NC State sophomore power forward C.J. Leslie at Raleigh Word of God.