Northeast’s Williams proving to be quite the find

— Ever since be­ing in­ser­ted in­to the start­ing lineup, DeAndre Wil­li­ams has North­east fly­ing high.

North­east High’s DeAnde Wil­li­ams (#15) dur­ing the North­east/Cent­ral game, Janu­ary 24, 2013, Phil­adelphia, Pa. (Maria Pouch­nikova)

Be­fore the crit­ic­al road con­test at Cent­ral tipped off, North­east High School first-year boys bas­ket­ball coach Ira Stern offered an up­dated scout­ing re­port on his team.

“Be­fore the sea­son, I didn’t know I had a su­per­star play­er,” he said. “Things are a little bit dif­fer­ent now.” 

In­deed they are.

The su­per­star in ques­tion is 5-foot-10 seni­or guard DeAndre Wil­li­ams, who didn’t quite play up to Stern’s billing in a sloppy first half in which the first-year varsity play­er had sev­en points and missed more shots than he made. However, Wil­li­ams flipped a switch at half­time, de­pos­it­ing 22 of his team-high 29 points in the second half and over­time. When the Vik­ings let a double-di­git lead slip away in the fourth quarter, Wil­li­ams nev­er flinched in help­ing de­liv­er a cru­cial 75-71 OT vic­tory last Thursday that kept North­east (10-3, 7-3 Di­vi­sion C) a game be­hind the Lan­cers in the stand­ings.

The win was North­east’s sixth in a row, and Wil­li­ams has con­tin­ued to be a rev­el­a­tion in all of them. In 13 games, the light­ning-quick guard is av­er­aging 20.2 points per game, a mark good for sev­enth in the city when the North­east Times went to press. 

Not too shabby for a guy who wasn’t even on the team last year.

“In the sum­mer I worked hard every day … all the years I tried out I nev­er made it,” Wil­li­ams said. “I just said to my­self that this year would be dif­fer­ent.

“This has been a lot of fun. I love run­ning with this team. We just want to keep go­ing up and down the floor, run­ning and run­ning and run­ning …”

Run­ning cer­tainly has been North­east’s man­tra, as well as the main key to their re­cent suc­cess. Be­fore the sea­son, Stern said he wanted his team to em­ploy an up tempo, run-and-gun of­fense; if the Vik­ings could score between 70 and 80 points per game, he said, they would win a lot of games.

Cur­rently, North­east is scor­ing a shade un­der 70 per game. In or­der to win, the un­der­sized Vik­ings place more of an em­phas­is on box­ing out; once they grab a de­fens­ive re­bound, the task is simple: look up court and run. With the ball in Wil­li­ams’ hands lead­ing the fast break — either tak­ing the ball in­to the lane for one of his pat­en­ted, no-back­board float­ers or find­ing wide-open team­mates on the peri­met­er — it’s hard for any op­pon­ent to guard these Vik­ings.

“Nobody can guard him man-to-man,” Stern said of Wil­li­ams. “In all of my years of coach­ing, I’ve nev­er seen a guy drib­bling the ball be faster than the de­fend­er run­ning without it, but that’s DeAndre. It’s crazy.”

And while many teams boast en­vi­able speed, what sets North­east apart is self­less­ness. Wil­li­ams may be do­ing the bulk of the scor­ing, but he also deftly gets his team­mates in­volved. For ex­ample, seni­or shoot­ing guard Daquan Bo­han­non (16 points) con­nec­ted on three first quarter three-point­ers when Wil­li­ams and the rest of the team moved the ball around un­til they found the open shoot­er in the corner. Des­pite a slow half from Wil­li­ams, the Vik­ings still led by sev­en at the break.

“This team loves passing the ball,” Wil­li­ams said. “We get on the break and we aren’t a one-man show. We love to get the as­sists as much as we do the points.”

As Wil­li­ams’ coach said, “ ‘Dre’ is a lead­er and a shoot­er, but he’s not a (ball) hog.” The key to the Vik­ings’ suc­cess has been just that — spread­ing the ball around to their sev­er­al cap­able scorers (ad­di­tion­ally Tony Nay­an, Greg Mick­ens and Kyree Simpson, to name a few). Aside from the Cent­ral nail-biter, the oth­er five wins dur­ing the streak came by an av­er­age mar­gin of 27 points.

Point is, North­east is rid­ing a wave of its best bas­ket­ball this sea­son as the play­offs rap­idly ap­proach. They are com­fort­able play­ing with each oth­er with­in Stern’s high-fly­ing sys­tem, which could spell bad news for any per­spect­ive post­season op­pon­ent. (North­east closes out its reg­u­lar sea­son on Thursday at Ben Frank­lin.) 

“This win boos­ted our con­fid­ence, but we know we still have to stay fo­cused,” Wil­li­ams said. “We can’t let our con­fid­ence get too high or else we’ll be in over our heads. All we can do is keep work­ing hard and look for­ward to that next game.”

Stern couldn’t be hap­pi­er with his best play­er’s mat­ur­a­tion. Not only is this Wil­li­ams’ first year on varsity, but he didn’t even start the team’s first three games. The Vik­ings lost two of those three con­tests; since Wil­li­ams took over as a starter, the team is 9-1. He’s gone from an un­known com­mod­ity to re­ceiv­ing in­terest from Mer­cer County Com­munity Col­lege, ac­cord­ing to Stern. The coach said he be­lieves Wil­li­ams can latch on to a four-year Di­vi­sion II or III pro­gram if he im­proves his grades.

“The mo­ment he be­came a starter he be­came our lead­er, our heart and soul,” Stern said. “He changes the whole game by cre­at­ing mis­matches. He’s pro­pelled us to where we are. He’s calm, cool, col­lec­ted and just hav­ing fun out there.”

Right now, there are few teams play­ing bet­ter bas­ket­ball than North­east. On the court, they’ve loved play­ing to­geth­er, be it in games or dur­ing Stern’s gruel­ing, daily three-hour prac­tices. That’s trans­lated to a close bond off the court, which will in­clude a Su­per Bowl party at Stern’s house for the en­tire team and coach­ing staff.

Wil­li­ams knows this year will be his only shot at high school bas­ket­ball glory, so he and his team want to make it count.

“I’m already think­ing about how tough of a loss he’ll be next year,” Stern said. “But right now, we’re tre­mend­ously con­fid­ent and we know if we ex­ecute then there’s a chance we can beat every­one. We’re hit­ting our stride and play­ing to­geth­er, and ‘Dre is in charge of that.”

“I just love this team,” Wil­li­ams said. “It’s my first and last year, so I want to en­joy it. I want to have fun and I want to win. I’m just go­ing to go out there, play my game and be un­selfish. Hope­fully, we keep win­ning.” ••

Sports Ed­it­or Ed Mor­rone can be reached at 215-354-3035 or em­or­

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