LIMA — When Chris Adams stepped down as the head men’s basketball coach at UNOH last season he did not have to look far for his replacement. Caleb Williams was sitting right next to him. Williams spent two seasons on the basketball staff at The University of Findlay and one season as Adams’ top assistant at UNOH before taking over the Racer program.
Williams received rave reviews from the coaches he worked under. “He came highly recommended by the University of Findlay coaches, who I have a lot of respect for” says Adams. He added, “After being around him for a year, I was impressed with his work ethic and attention to detail. He was the first one in the gym and the last one out the door every day.”
Upon taking the reins of the UNOH basketball program, the 25-year-old Williams became one of the youngest college head basketball coaches in the country.
Coaching is in his DNA, according to Williams. His father, Chad, was a football coach at Crestview and New Bremen and he and his three brothers were all athletes. “The rhythm of our family was always centered around sport seasons,” recalls Williams.
After graduating from New Bremen High School, Williams played basketball at Mount Vernon Nazarene University where he was selected as captain for three years. Graduating with a degree in Business Management, Williams interviewed and was offered a position on the business side of the NFL Miami Dolphins organization, a rare opportunity. He also interviewed for a graduate assistant position on the staff of the University of Findlay basketball program. Faced with two polar opposite opportunities, Williams followed his heart and began his coaching career at UF. “I could never have scripted any of this,” Williams says.
His first season at the helm has been a challenge for Williams, but one that he continues to embrace with enthusiasm and confidence. “I knew I still had a lot to learn, but there is really no way to be completely prepared for the job,” says Williams. “When I was an assistant breaking down film, coach Adams and coach Ernst (University of Findlay head coach) were dealing with other aspects of the job, like meetings, budget and discipline issues. I’ve learned that one of the biggest parts of my job is just managing people,” he added.
The UNOH basketball team has not met Coach Williams’ expectations this season but is still fighting for a Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference postseason playoff spot with just two games remaining on the schedule.
Because UNOH will graduate six seniors, all of whom are in the playing rotation, recruiting their replacements becomes a major priority for the Racer coaching staff. When UNOH is not playing a game of their own, you can find Williams and his assistants, Josh Brown and Xavier Holland, at some high school gymnasium around the state scouring for talent.
Coach Williams makes it clear he is casting his net for athletes with specific qualifications. “I want players who will take pride in being a student-athlete at UNOH and understand the sweat equity it takes to be successful at this level of play,” he says. “At some point a coach’s voice goes mute and you have to rely on team leaders who take ownership of the program and pass that on to the next generation of players,” he added.
Xander Smart is one of those kind of leaders. The Racer senior guard, a graduate of Dayton Carroll High School, recently asked coach Williams if he could address the team before a game. “Xander has the pulse on every player on our team and is liked and respected by everyone,” says coach Williams. Smart wanted to encourage his teammates to finish the season strong and shared with them how much his experience at UNOH has meant to him. Smart remembers, “I knew I only had 10 games left in my basketball career. I wanted them to be special. I asked them, ‘Who is going to fight with me?’”
Looking back on his experience at UNOH, Smart had a lot to say. Xander stated, “UNOH has shaped me as a person.” He added, “It was not always perfect and I had to go through some adversity, but I learned about diversity and how to interact with all kinds of people. My experience here has set me up perfectly. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.” Smart will graduate this year with a degree in Forensic Accounting and is hoping to land a position in the Financial Management Department at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
As coach Williams goes looking for gifted basketball players with the kind of character Xander Smart possesses, he acknowledges the coaching role he plays and the commitment he invests in developing student-athletes. “If a player walks out of here a better basketball player, but not a better man, then we have failed,” He says.
Caleb Williams’ vision for the UNOH basketball program is right on the money. It’s easy to get behind this young coach and pull for his success.
Bob Seggerson is a retired boys basketball coach and guidance counselor at Lima Central Catholic. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.