Round Lake's Williams making the grade on and off court

  • Round Lake's Hakim Williams (4) blocks the shot of Grant's Henry Kusiak during their game this month at Round Lake.

      Round Lake's Hakim Williams (4) blocks the shot of Grant's Henry Kusiak during their game this month at Round Lake. Steve Lundy | Staff Photographer

Updated 2/21/2019 7:20 PM

Considering the raw strength Hakim Williams possesses for a 16-year-old, it's a wonder Jay Iden's always perfectly combed hair didn't suddenly have the messy look.

An excited Williams hustled over to his Round Lake basketball coach after a game, cellphone in his hand. Iden braced for a charge. Contact might have been made.


"I thought he was going to show me Huddle," Iden said of his sophomore star and program newcomer. "I'm like, 'What do you got for me, big guy?' He's like, 'I just got my math grade up. I'm so pumped right now.' "

Williams' energy is contagious. Since coming to Round Lake from Clinton, Iowa last fall, the 6-foot-3, nearly 200-pound transfer has helped pump life into a Panthers team that didn't win a single game last season. Williams is averaging 19 points, 10 rebounds, 2.5 steals and 2 blocks per game, and is shooting 50 percent from the floor for a squad that traveled to Richmond-Burton on Thursday night seeking its 10th win of the season.

"Defensively, inside, he is so quick and deceptive," Iden said. "He'll be on the weak side, come over and just pin the guy. Rebounding, when you watch him, he just gets up. It's almost like the ball pops when he gets it."

Williams has been just as impressive at the offensive end, featuring a variety of skills, including a nifty up-and-under move.

"His handles for a guy his size are just fantastic," Iden said. "He's got the hands of a guard. He has a really nice shot. When he shoots it (and scores), (the net) makes a different sound."

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Wauconda would likely agree. Williams scored 34 points (his season high) against the Bulldogs in early January and then poured in 32 against them last Friday night at Round Lake.

"I've been working on that," Williams said of his shooting. "I used to be bigger than other kids so I didn't really have to use my jumper. My teammates have helped me get it where I want it to be. They'll stand under the rim (at practice) and catch rebounds for me, while I just put up shots."

Williams has made friends quickly at his new school and not only because he's good at basketball. He put up 20 points, 21 rebounds, 3 steals and 3 blocks against Grayslake North this month. He's averaging 23.8 points and 12.7 boards in his last six games.

And he came out of nowhere.

Round Lake's coaches weren't aware of Williams until he showed up at an open gym shortly after moving here from Iowa. Iden wasn't there because he had an optometrist appointment.


"I'm sitting there and my phone was just going off," Iden said. "My assistants are like, 'You shouldn't have gone to your optometrist appointment. You're going to like what you see.' I'm like, 'Yeah, yeah, yeah.' "

It didn't take long for Iden to realize he had a special player -- and a great kid who's quickly earned the respect not only of his peers but adults in Round Lake's building.

"He's a very grounded kid," Iden said. "He's so humble."

This is the son Williams' mother, Charisma, has raised.

"It was pretty easy (transitioning to Round Lake) because I've always been a good student," Williams said. "I've never had trouble in classes. I like to get my work done. My mama says, 'No passing grades, no basketball.' So I got to get it done."

Take that math class that was troubling him.

"It was bad," Williams, who always liked math and was good at it in middle school, said of his grade. "It wasn't what I wanted it to be so I had to get it up."

Charisma must be where Williams gets his charisma and perhaps his athleticism too. She ran track back in her day.

"I heard there's nobody in our family that can beat her at running," said Williams, laughing. "But I really don't know about that. I haven't seen her (run)."

For a tall kid with muscular arms and shoulders, Williams is not intimidating once you get to know him. He may be soft-spoken, but he walks the halls with his head held high and greets anyone with a smile. He'll go up to the school custodian after games and exchange fist-bumps.

"He goes out of his way to acknowledge you," Round Lake athletic director Mike Mizwicki said. "He's a happy kid."

Again, credit Charisma.

"I like to introduce myself," Williams said. "(My mother) doesn't like shyness. I used to be shy when I was a kid. She would say, 'Go play. Go play with other kids and introduce yourself.' "

"They call me a 'Mama's boy,' " he added, smiling.

Unless they want to risk their shot being blocked into the third row, basketball opponents would be wise not to call him this.

• Follow Joe on Twitter: @JoeAguilar64

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