Friar Basketball

The Saga of Dwight Williams

Dwight Williams Team

One of the most intriguing players to ever suit up for head coach Dave Gavitt at Providence College was a six foot point guard out of Buffalo, NY named Dwight Williams.

Williams came to PC as a sophomore in the fall of 1976 after leading the University of Southern Idaho to the National Junior College Championship over Mercer County Community College. He was an explosive scorer in high school, averaging nearly 40 points per game.

Williams had all the tools of a modern day point guard. He was lightning quick and could take the ball to the basket with ease. He was a magician handling the ball and complemented it all with a good outside shot.

During his sophomore year at PC (1976-77), Williams teamed up with future NBA champion, and Friar legend, Joe Hassett to form one of the best backcourt combinations in college basketball. Hassett was the sharpshooting two guard and Williams the lighting quick lead man.

On a team that included Soup Campbell, Bob Cooper, Bill Eason and Bob Misevicius, Williams averaged 10.1 points and 5.2 assists per game as the Friars reached the NCAA tournament before falling to Kansas State in the first round (which was the round of 32 at the time). That Kansas State team lost their next game by a point to eventual national champion Marquette.

Hassett was profiled during last March’s NCAA tournament and shared his memories of the Kansas State loss — a game PC led by two in the final minute before a missed dunk that could have sealed the game opened the door for K-State.

That was also the year that Providence defeated #1 Michigan in double overtime at the Civic Center. That win upped PC’s all-time Civic Center record to 69-7.

“Dwight was a really solid player,” Hassett told Friarbasketball.com recently. “We played one year together and I think we broke into the top ten at one point. I only have good memories about Dwight. He was a big part of our success in ’76-77 season.”

Hassett’s memory is sound. The Friars reached #8 in the national polls that year and finished the season 24-5.

During the 1977-78 season, Williams improved on his solid play, as he averaged 16.6 points and 4.2 assists per game while earning Honorable Mention All American honors. One of the highlights that year was the “Blizzard Game” against North Carolina which took place shortly after the Blizzard of ’78 struck Rhode Island.

Here are some highlights of that game (Williams is number 10 in white):

Once again PC went to the NCAA tournament, and once again they were ranked in the top 10 nationally (9), but they ran into Michigan State and a freshman named Earvin Johnson in the first round of the tourney. The Spartans defeated the PC, 77-63, ending PC’s season.

Richard Coren, author of Providence College Basketball: The Friar Legacy and editor of Scout Friars remembered Williams as “an explosive point guard who had a terrific handle and could really defend.”

One particular matchup stood out to Coren, “At the time, Ronnie Perry of Holy Cross was considered the best player in New England and during his junior year, Holy Cross came into the Civic Center and Williams was up for the challenge. He absolutely dominated Perry and when Holy Cross tried to press and trap Williams in the backcourt, he put Perry on his butt. After that game, Perry was never the same and Williams had established himself as the top guard in the area.”

The next year was going to be Dwight Williams’ time to shine. He was set to be the primary scoring option, and many followers of the program figured he could average 20-25 points per game as the offensive focal point.

Yes, it was going to be a rebuilding year, but a team built around Williams and some intriguing incoming recruits would be at least very entertaining.

Then, the bottom fell out of the PC program.

After the ’78 season Williams was involved in an altercation with a member of the baseball team during a game of pool in the Slavin Center on the PC campus. Williams allegedly stabbed the student in the leg with a knife. Shortly after the incident Williams was dismissed from school.

Most people around the program were shocked that it was Williams, of all people, who was involved in the alleged stabbing. He was well-liked and well-respected throughout the PC community.

Coren recalls, “The knife incident was shocking to me. Williams was a player who always seemed to be in control emotionally. When refs would call offensive fouls on him, he would calmly place the ball on the floor and walk away. From the expression on his face, you never got the impression that anything upset him. So, when the news broke about the incident over the pool game, Dwight Williams was just about the last player that I would have expected to have reacted that way.”

The knifing occurred a few years after the Marvin Barnes tire iron incident, which was still very much on the minds of Friar fans at the time, as Barnes had recently served time at the ACI for a parole violation resulting from the incident.

Providence took a public relations hit over the perceived slap on the wrist they gave Barnes (academic and athletic probation), so when the Williams news broke he was soon dismissed from the program.

Williams’ dismissal started an avalanche which turned the program from an Eastern basketball power to a perennial cellar dweller in the newly-created Big East Conference.

In addition to losing a potential All American for the ’78-79 season, Providence also lost most of that year’s all-important recruiting class, including the highly-touted John Garris, a 6’9 power forward out of Bridgeport, CT.

There was only one signing period for Letters of Intent at the time (in April), so the recruits were under no obligation to stay committed prior to then.

“Williams’ dismissal after that was a devastating blow to the program,” said Coren. “Had he returned for his senior season, he would have challenged Sly Williams (URI) for New England Player of the Year and All-American honors. He had pro talent and with him on the roster, Dave Gavitt’s last year coaching would have been far more successful and maybe PC would not have fallen so far going into the Big East. Without question, opposing coaches used the knife incident against Providence when recruiting.”

After Gavitt announced that ’78-79 would be his last year as PC’s coach, recruiting the following season was nearly impossible. Rival coaches used Gavitt’s departure and the knife incident against the Friars in recruiting.

Losing a potential All American in Williams, plus what amounted to two lost recruiting classes,  devastated Providence heading into the ’80s. The Friars started out 17-69 during the first six years of the brand new Big East Conference. It took several years and the arrival of an up-and-coming coach named Rick Pitino to bring the Friars back to respectability by the late ’80s.

As for Williams, he was drafted by the Hawks in the sixth round of the NBA Draft after spending a year at Gardner Webb. Unfortunately, he was cut after training camp and never played in the NBA.

Many long-time Friar fans wonder what would have happened to both Williams and Providence had he graduated from PC.

(Thanks to Joe Hassett, Richard Coren, Arthur Parks, and Chris Mezzanotte for their help with this article.)

One Comment

  1. CP

    September 26, 2018 at 5:02 pm

    This is great! Love hearing some of the old Friar history, particularly during that 70’s era. Friar history is full of “what ifs…” and Dwight Williams is right up there in that category. Great point, how his incident was really the start for bad times to come for the program.

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