By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Janet Williams and the crew knew this day would be coming when her son Jayson was a little boy.
Moving to the Munford area after the second grade, Jayson was trying to find his way through school, life and athletics. Finally gravitating to basketball, hitting a huge growth spurt and the encouragement of his support system guided Williams to his signing day June 19 on the campus of Munford High School.
Joined by Principal Dr. Courtney Fee, English teacher Jen Tyler and several family members, Williams celebrated his commitment to Rhodes College for an academic scholarship and to play basketball. Jayson shared the moment with his siblings Mariah and Anthony Stewart, stepfather Anthony Sr., aunts Jackie Thornton and Alice Williams, grandparents Anita and Jerry McGill, cousin Camdyn Barnett and mother Janet.
“I’m extremely blessed to know that he’s going to be staying local and enjoy something he absolutely loves to do,” she said. “Rhodes College is an excellent school.
“He graduate with a 3.98 grade point average and 19th in his class,” Janet added. “He did a full academic scholarship for all four years.”
Also present was Jayson’s prep coach and now the new Head Coach of South Doyle High School in Knoxville Ryan Ross.
“He is everything you want in a player, everything I wanted I a player at Munford,” Ross said. “His GPA, the high character, had a good job, never missed a practice. He’s just a hard work and worked his way into being a good player. His basketball is still ahead of him. He’s a prime example of everything we wanted here.”
Williams became the sixth and final Cougar to sign to play at the next level from the Ross tenure. In his five seasons at Munford Ross won a District 13-3A championship in 2019 and finished runner-up this past season.
There for four of those years was Williams. He entered Ross’ program a raw talent coming off the gridiron.
“Eighth grade I was left tackle,” Jayson recalled. “Chubby, chubby kid, I was out there in football. Then I hit my growth spurt. I was only 5’11 as a freshman, Coach Ross took a chance on me.”
Ross said he saw beyond the barely sixth-foot frame.
“You saw that he’s a high-character kid and had a good work ethic,” Ross recalled. “He was coachable and when he first came in he hadn’t play a whole lot. In some way there’s no bad habit to break. Then he worked his tail off. He deserves all the credit. He put the work in. He had so many set backs with injuries. He could have given it up at anytime. That just speaks to the character he has.”
Janet said her son took his studies and work as a lifeguard at the Millington Family YMCA serious. Adding basketball to his schedule, she knew he would stay focused.
“Jayson is an excellent kid,” she said. “He’s always been that go-to person. Always dedicated to whatever he does. He’s headstrong and very independent.
“He did not play during middle school,” Janet continued. “Actually he played football. So going into this freshman year when he tried out and made the team, he was very excited. That’s when I saw the different in his game skills. He’s always had a love for the game but I have to contribute a lot of his upbringing and style of the game to Coach Ross.”
Those skills helped get the attention of Rhodes Head Coach Steven “Zo” Goodson. The Lynx are a NCAA Division III program in the Southern Athletic Association.
Williams, just like thousands of seniors across the nation lost a chunk of their senior year because of COVID-19. Having a signing day had extra meaning for the 6’7 hoopster.
“I’m just happy to be able to play college basketball for a great school and stay local with all my family here,” he said. “Those were the No. 1 priorities.
“This day feels amazing,” Jayson added. “Everything got ruined and was just not normal. But Ms. (Jen) Tyler promised me before we got out of school I would have my day. She set all of this up. Ms. Tyler made sure I had a great day today.”
Williams didn’t have a great day during his junior season at Munford. While the Cougars were heading toward a championship, Williams was just becoming a firm part of Ross’ rotation when he suffered an injury.
“He was bombed,” Janet recalled. “To be able to play almost the entire season then not be able to play in the playoffs, It hurt his heart. He is a team player and he understood just because he doesn’t get the time, he still contributed to how far they got last year. He’s definitely learned to be able to sit back, watch and learn the game. He sees it from a different perspective.”
Jayson acknowledged he didn’t see the positive of his season-ending injury at first.
“It took me back,” he said. “It was really, really bad because we were really good that year. I had to sit back and watch us win. We won the district championship and I was hurt. It really sucked.
“I was there the whole time,” Williams added. “I felt like I contributed because of practice and what I did the season before. All I can do from the bench was just watch. So I just watched and tried to come a better basketball player without touching the ball.”
The time away from the court gave Williams a better appreciation of the game and made him a student of basketball. He used those lesson to help his team rally late in the 2020 season to reach the District 13-3A championship game.
“Learning what a winning team had to look like, consistency and all of that,” he said. “Just sitting back watching in practice and in game on what we had to do. It helped me a lot. It helped me taking a step back and watching what you have to do to win in basketball.”
Now Rhodes will be the beneficiaries of Williams’ growth and development in basketball.
“He’s going to go on to have a great basketball career,” Ross said. “But that guy is going to go on beyond and do great things outside of basketball. Rhodes is a perfect place for him to grow.”
Janet said more success is coming her son’s way but like four years ago, she’s not 100 percent sure how.
“He’s full of surprises,” she concluded. “We’re very blessed to be having him go local. We definitely understand we have that pleasure of being able to go visit and watch all of the games. It’s just exciting. We can’t put this into words how extremely blessed we are.”