Daily Egyptian

Kent Williams, former Southern Illinois athlete, inducted into MVC Hall of Fame

By Adam Warfel, Sports Editor

Kent Williams, former Southern Illinois basketball player and 2010 Saluki Hall of Fame inductee, was inducted into the Missouri Valley Conference Hall on Friday.

The Mt. Vernon native played for SIU from 1999-2003 and is second on the scoring list for the Salukis, finishing his four year career with 2,012 points. He also finished second in three-pointers and free throws and has played the most minutes ever as a Saluki.

Williams played for Southern under former head coach Bruce Weber. He said when he first saw Williams play he thought he would never have a chance to recruit him.

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Weber went to go see Williams play in the KMOX basketball showdown to get a glimpse of what Williams could do in Carbondale.

“We were not very good and I don’t know if we would win a game,” Weber said. “I sat way up on top. Kent had 12 in the first quarter, 25 at halftime and by the end of the game I was sitting at press row [and] had my Saluki stuff on.”

During Williams’ illustrious career at Southern, the Salukis made the NIT tournament in 2000 and the NCAA tournament in both 2002 and 2003 with a Sweet 16 berth in 2002.

“He is simply one of the best players in the Missouri Valley Conference history,” broadcaster Mike Reis said in a video presented at the ceremony. “Not only is he the most impactful in the 40 years I’ve been around SIU, he impacted the Missouri Valley Conference.”

During his speech, Williams reflected on the opportunity to be able to share a special moment like this not only with his fellow inductees but his family.

“I want to congratulate all the other inductees,” Williams said. “We’re a team together now as we’re going in for the same year [and] getting a chance to share something with my family.”

Williams said he credits his success to the support received from his family – especially his father.

“None of this happens without a great support system,” Williams said. “It’s pretty special when you can wait for your dad to come home from work and you know he’s not going to say ‘no’ to you if you want to go play catch in the backyard, go shoot some baskets, [or] whatever it is – I had support growing up.”

Williams gave credit to Weber for his intent on recruiting him even before Weber had coached a game at Southern.

“I was lucky enough to play in my backyard. I grew up in Southern Illinois,” Williams said. “Give Coach Weber credit – he recruited me. I committed to that man before he ever coached a game.”

Williams said playing for Southern and being able to represent a school just under 60 miles from his hometown is a point of pride.

“To put Southern Illinois on your chest and go out and play knowing that’s a place you grew up,” Williams said.”Looking back on it now, it’s even more special, seeing the banners that we put up, the memories we created.”

Blood, sweat and tears were the words Williams mentioned throughout his speech during the ceremony.

“Everybody uses the terminology ‘blood, sweat and tears,'” Williams said. “I feel like I did that. If you watched me play, I definitely was bleeding all the time.”

Fans who had the opportunity to watch Williams play at Southern would note the toughness and tenacity he played with at each and every game.

“I just kind of had a competitive mindset; whatever level it [was], I went in with the intention I’m going to play as hard as I can play,” Williams said. “I grew up watching Larry Bird. I watched how hard he played, he competed.”

Saluki fans of old might remember the grit found in those Saluki teams, with the name “Floorburn U” used as a way to identify the toughness they played with in those years.

“Floorburn U, that’s who we were, that’s what we were about,” Williams said.

Williams said the sweat he poured out during his high school years made him feel more prepared for the college court.

“I put a lot of time into it and that time wasn’t just when I got to college – it was before then,” Williams said. “I wanted to get to that level. I was prepared to play college basketball as soon as I stepped on campus.”

Tears can always be found in any arena of sports, as athletes pour out everything they have for their school and team in attempts to earn recognition.

“Tears – it’s sports. There [are] championships being won. There [are] championships being lost,” Williams said. “I was fortunate to cut down the nets twice [and] shed some tears with your roommates in the locker room.”

During his four years at Southern, Williams put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into the team – leading the Salukis to an 88-42 record during his tenure.

Currently, Williams is the head basketball coach at DeSmet Jesuit High School in St. Louis and has transformed the team from having seven wins last season to 23 this year.

“It starts in practice,” Williams said. “We talk about defense, we talk about playing hard [and] being accountable for your teammates,”

Williams has spent time at SIU Edwardsville, Tennessee, and Missouri State as an assistant coach. He also served as a supervisor of basketball operations at Purdue.

Sports editor Adam Warfel can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @warfel_adam.

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