by Tom Pedulla –
Daniel Williams is genetically blessed as the son of late heavyweight champion Carl “The Truth” Williams – and it shows.
Williams, a 6-3, 200-pound senior at Sleepy Hollow High School, has established himself as one of the area’s finest basketball players. He averaged 23.6 points, 11 rebounds and four blocked shots through the early stages of this season. He first dunked as a freshman.
“To see a 14-year-old kid do that, I knew something was different about him,” said Chris Starace, the varsity coach at Sleepy Hollow, adding, “Just the way he moves, the way he does things, you can just tell that genetics is part of it.”
Keith Wright, who coached Williams as part of Next Level Athletics 17-and-under AAU team, first spotted him as an eighth grader. “He was raw, but you could see the athleticism. Then he mentioned who his dad was and it was like, ‘Okay, now I get it,’” said Wright.
The elder Williams owned two Golden Gloves amateur titles. After turning professional, he compiled a 30-10 record, including 21 knockouts. He reigned as United States Boxing Association heavyweight champion from June 21, 1987 until March 8, 1991.
He launched his career with 16 consecutive victories before dropping a controversial 15-round decision to Larry Holmes in an epic bout for the International Boxing Federation crown in May 1985. He became known as “The Truth” for his ability to make believers of those who doubted him.
Williams described his hard-hitting father as a “perfect dad,” a role model even after his death due to throat cancer in April 2013.
“The way he carried himself, it made me look up to him,” he said. “It made me want to be like that, like a big athlete.”
He already has distinguished himself. He received All-League and All-Conference honors as a junior.
“He’s the most athletic player I’ve ever coached, and that’s a pretty high compliment because I coached kids who played Division 1,” said Starace. “He plays above the rim like no other player I’ve ever been around.”
Williams will never forget his first dunk in an organized game. It came three years ago, in a varsity game against visiting Nanuet.
“I was on the fast break and I thought I might as well just go up,” he said. “The crowd went crazy. It was overwhelming because I was a sophomore at the time.”
While he is capable of doing something spectacular at any moment, Williams remains a work in progress. He also played football at Sleepy Hollow and should benefit from focusing all of his efforts now on basketball. He is working on his jump shot and defense as he eyes the college level.
He is being recruited by a number of schools, many of them Division III. Starace believes the 17-year-old might benefit, academically and athletically, from a year in prep school. That is receiving serious consideration.
“Wherever he plays in college, I think they are going to be really happy with him because I don’t think he’s even scratched the surface yet of his athletic ability,” the coach said.
Williams noted how much his father meant to him. “He was everything you could possibly want,” he said.
Moving on without the “perfect dad” has not been easy. Even packed stands can feel empty without his father’s towering figure.
“When he first died, it took a huge toll on me,” Williams said. “But I’m just living my life now.”
He does, after all, have a big name to live up to.