It wasn’t coronavirus that had Matt Williams down.
It was being away from his team.
This summer, when the Abraham Lincoln High School basketball team was playing Neumann-Goretti in a heated summer league battle, Williams was down with the sickness.
He never had bad symptoms, he said he just had a high fever and some assorted aches, but the real pain was being away from his team for such an important game against the Catholic League powerhouse.
He wasn’t there in person, but he was there in spirit, and only the livestream of the game made him feel better.
“I was yelling like crazy,” said Williams, a junior combo guard on the Railsplitters. “We won. I was so happy we won, but I really wanted to be there. It was the only game I missed, I only was out for, like, two weeks, but that was a big game. We know how good Neumann-Goretti is, so that was a big win for us. We had a great summer.”
So did Williams. And that has led to great things for Lincoln.
Last year, he was a deep reserve for the Railsplitters, but after putting in extra work since last year ended, he earned a spot in the starting lineup, and his efforts helped keep Lincoln among the top teams in the city.
The Railsplitters earned the right to play in the Public League championship game on Monday when they defeated defending Public League champions Math, Civics and Science 77-72 in a semifinal at Fels. Williams contributed seven points. Region Knight scored 22 points to lead Lincoln, which also got 15 points from Dahmir Fowlkes and 11 more from Khrystopher Murray.
Williams, who mostly runs point guard but also sees time on the wing, is right where he wants to be. He just has to show a little patience.
Lincoln awaits a foe in the championship game. The Railsplitters will meet the winner of Imhotep Charter against Sankofa.
Public League championship time and site will be determined.
“I really wanted to play this year, so I made sure to work really hard,” said Williams, who scores about 18 points and dishes out a handful of assists a game for Lincoln. “I knew if I wanted to play, I had to get better at every aspect because after last year, I knew this team had high expectations. They only got higher over the summer.
‘I worked for it. The hardest thing was getting better on defense because that’s what the coach demands. He loves defense.”
He also loves success away from basketball.
Lincoln had no problems when it came to talent on the floor, but especially this year with Philadelphia public schools mostly doing remote learning, some students would need a little extra help with school work.
When the Railsplitters need it, they don’t have to look far. In fact, they don’t have to look at all.
“We do study hall every night and that’s really helped a lot of us,” said Williams, who lives in Mayfair and does well in school. “Coach (Mel Lindsey) will explain things to us, and there are other people there. It’s really good for us because sometimes you need a little help. It’s a lot harder going to school remotely. I wish we were in school all the time, but having that help has really helped.
“Lincoln is a great place for basketball, but it’s great for academics, too. They’re not getting us ready to play college basketball, they’re getting us ready to play college basketball and do well when we’re there. In school, they’re trying to get us ready for everything. We love study hall.”
Almost as much as playing basketball.
Lincoln has had a lot of success in recent years.
In 2018, the Railsplitters went to the state finals, and have been among the top teams in the Public League in each of the last six years.
But they’ve yet to win a Public League championship during that time.
In fact, the Railsplitters haven’t been there since 1965 when they bested Franklin.
This year, Williams would have loved to compete for a state championship, but the Railsplitters fell to Archbishop Wood in a District 12 6A city championship for the right to play in the tournament.
But the other goal is still very much in play, and Williams is going to make sure his team is in the best position to bring home a championship.
“We’re a bunch of dogs who get after it,” Williams said. “I think we have one of the best teams around. We played Wood really hard. If we can do that, we can beat anyone.”
Williams isn’t looking past the season, but he’s definitely excited about the future.
He has another year at Lincoln to look forward to, and the plan is to use that year to find a college where he can continue his career.
“Basketball is my plan A and I don’t have a plan B,” Williams said. “I mean I’m going to do well in school, because you never know, but I really want to play college basketball, get an education.
“Basketball is my life. I don’t drink, smoke or do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. I put everything I have into that. I watch basketball, play it, study it. I always think I can get better.”