By Joe Harrington Sports Editor
Kerrville Daily Times
MEDINA - Sammie Williamson knows how to get rebounds.
As soon as the Medina High School senior knows a shot is off, he has a process. First, he targets the ball. Then he boxes his man out using his muscular 6-foot-2-inch body and 6-foot-8-inch wingspan to get position.
"Before he can even make a move, I'm in his hip," Williamson said. "I sit down like a chair and don't allow him to move me and use my legs to be able to move him."
Then he prays the ball comes his way. Most of the time, it does. In fact, these days, a lot of things seem to be coming Williamson's way.
But life hasn't always gone that way.
Before the shot On the basketball court, Williamson is a dominate figure.
His skill set, body and light passing touch under the basket is what Medina coach Tut Wardlaw said he and every other high school coach wants in a post player. Williamson's ability has helped lift his team to a 23-4 record, 1-0 start in District 29-A and a No. 10 ranking in the state of Texas.
Williamson, or Big Sam to Medina fans, excells off the court. He was accepted to Schreiner University and plans to attend in the fall.
This all shouldn't be the case, according to Williamson.
He should be dead.
"I was talking to my mom (Wednesday) night," Williamson said, "She was saying, ‘You know Sammie, I do believe if you had never moved to Medina, you wouldn't be in college. You'd probably be dead.'
"I said, ‘Mom, I totally agree with it,'" he added.
Williamson was adopted when he was 4 years old and lived in San Antonio. He faced many challenges in his adolescence including multiple forms of abuse.
"I had a lot of problems ... people did things they weren't supposed to, and I had feelings that were mixed," he said.
He went to middle school at Hoarce Mann, a charter school in San Antonio, where he played football, but nothing really changed.
Things started to turn around when he arrived at the Medina Children's Home and in his sophomore year when he enrolled at Medina High School.
Getting in position:
"When he first got here, he was a little rough around the edges," Wardlaw said.
There was an adjustment period, but Williamson dove into Medina's athletic programs. Although he played football - eventually making All-District honors this past season - he carved a niche in basketball.
"When he waked into the gym for the first time, my eyes lit up," Wardlaw said. "I was excited."
Williamson wasn't allowed to play on the varsity team his sophomore season due to UIL transfer rules, but the time wasn't wasted. Williamson had to learn to work hard to make the squad, which under Wardlaw has grown into a powerhouse Class A program.
"There were glimpses of what he's doing now, but there was a little work ethic problem there - getting a little lazy there now and then," Wardlaw said. "There were bits and pieces of that last year, but it has tapered off immensely."
Dedication hasn't been an issue this season. Williamson spends time watching film and has grown a respect not only for his surroundings, but the people in his life.
"It's been an honor to be playing under coach Wardlaw. It's been an honor to play under God, foremost," he said. " Basketball, from last year to this year, has been a change in attitude and demeanor. I've just been blessed with the gift of basketball."
Williamson has made grabbing 20 or more rebounds a frequent occurrence and has been one of the driving forces for a Medina offensive attack that few teams have matched. While teammates Andrew Landry and Mitchell Black usually lead the squad in scoring, it's Williamson who ignites the spark on offense.
When a defensive rebound is in his grasp, the Bobcats are off to the races.
"It's the defensive rebounds that get us going," Wardlaw said. "(Williamson's) outlet pass to Andrew or Mitchell, and either one of them make a pass up the court, and we score three seconds into our possession - it's very valuable. Especially when we try to do what we do here at Medina."
What they try to do is score quickly. And it's worked.
Williamson, once a kid that few could rely on, has become a player who Wardlaw seldom worries about.
"He's a kid we can always count on," Wardlaw said. "When he's not in the game, we can tell there's a drop off. He's a very, very important piece to what we've got going on."
For all the basketball skills that Williamson has developed, Wardlaw said he's learned even more off the court.
"He's come a very long way, not from the athletic side of it, but the maturity and the growing up," Wardlaw said.
Williamson wants to play basketball at Schreiner, but just making it to college is a step he is excited about.
"I never thought that I could go to college," he said. "My background runs deep. I never thought life would ever lead me to the direction it has sent me. With the help of family, coach Wardlaw, God, it's been a trip - it's been a positive trip.
"I've had a lot of help - a lot of good support systems in Medina. Coaches, teachers - it's been really interesting to play basketball here."
Finishing the play:
If Williamson's childhood mirrors one long rebound, then maybe his coach's description of what happens to a Sammie Williamson grab can offer a glimpse into the future.
"When he grabs a rebound, he grabs it," Wardlaw said. "Nobody is taking it away from him."