SAN JOSE, Calif. — With just under a minute remaining, Nigel Williams-Goss of Gonzaga, realizing a lifetime goal was just seconds away, walked to the edge of the court at SAP Center Saturday night and tried to keep his composure. It wasn’t easy.
Williams-Goss had played two years at the University of Washington and then left in 2015, trying to decide what new school and program to choose. He chose Gonzaga, on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. A culture change. A basketball change.
Mark Few, the Zags coach, was persuasive, but in an unusual way.
“I ain’t going to be your best friend,” Few told Williams-Goss, according to sportswriter Lindsey Schell. “I’m going to coach you, and we’re going to have a healthy dose of respect for each other.”
That respect was given, and so Williams-Goss, whose dream was to play in at least one Final Four, waited emotionally until the final buzzer.
He had scored a game-high 23 points, Had grabbed eight rebounds and was thinking about where he was and where he had been.
“I was just really emotional,” Williams-Goss said. “I had to thank God for leading me down this path and just kind of thought about the journey that it took to get here from transferring to sitting out and having ankle surgery last year, and just battling everything that we went through this year.”
Williams-Goss was one of three transfers, along with Johnathan Williams (Missouri) and Jordan Mathews (California), in the Gonzaga starting lineup.
“We had a plan for ourselves,” said Williams-Goss, who is a junior. “We believed from day one when we all stepped foot on this campus, that we could go to Phoenix. We didn’t shy away from setting that goal. And we bought in.”
Most players buy in, but it’s what they do after the purchase that counts.
“We listened to coach Few,” Williams-Goss said. “What he had to say for us, that we could do it. And to be 50 seconds away to kind of check off that last goal that I had when I originally got here was just a lot of emotion.”
Williams-Goss wrote a story a couple of weeks ago for The Players Tribune on what it would mean to reach the Final Four.
“I thought about it as soon as the [West semifinal] game against West Virginia was over,” he said. “We finally were 40 minutes away. I wanted to get there personally. I wanted to do it for the coach. There’s no one more deserving as a coach who hasn’t been to the Final Four.”
He’s going now. So is Williams-Goss.