HomeNewsWilliams shines bright in sending Raiders to Palestra

Williams shines bright in sending Raiders to Palestra

Darren Williams brings the ball up court against West Catholic, the last time Ryan played at the Palestra in the PCL semifinals. MARK ZIMMARO / TIMES PHOTO

It had nothing to do with revenge.

It had everything to do with continuing their mission.

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When Archbishop Ryan High School senior guard Darren Williams scored two of his game-high 22 points with two seconds remaining to turn the tables on St. Joe’s Prep in the quarterfinals of the Catholic League playoffs, Williams wasn’t thinking about the loss to the Hawks earlier in the year.

He just wanted to stay in the race to win a Catholic League championship.

“I didn’t even know I was going to shoot it, I was looking for my big man to see if he could get fouled or take it strong,” Williams said following Ryan’s 49-47 win. “But I had the shot, and big-time players take big-time shots in big-time games. I had the shot so I took it.”

The win sends Ryan back to the Palestra. Since Joe Zeglinski took over the program nine years ago, Ryan has been to the PCL semifinals six times, which is incredible when you consider the other teams in the league.

Last year, the Raiders just missed, losing in the quarterfinals. 

Williams made sure it wouldn’t be two years in a row, despite being on the road against a very good team.

“I’m so proud of the team,” Williams said. “We lost some games early, but we never doubted. For sure other people doubted us, but I knew we’d figure it out. We made small mistakes, but we stuck with it. It gave us the underdog mentality.

“Others might not have believed, but we always believe in each other. I knew we control it. We beat ourselves. We didn’t do enough in some games. But we knew that if we fixed things, we’re in a good spot.”

It’s hard to be in a better one.

Ryan has won its last six games, including wins over Prep, Roman Catholic and Father Judge, all very good teams.

The Raiders’ last loss was a one-point overtime setback to Neumann-Goretti. Take away that coinflip loss to a team that finished second in the PCL, and the Raiders haven’t lost since Jan. 8 in another one-point loss, this one to Archbishop Wood.

Are the playoffs the Archbishop Ryan revenge tour? 

Nope.

“We didn’t think about that, we just wanted to play our best,” Williams said. “For me, today was a huge game because in my head, I knew we had to play 32 minutes together. I was locked in. We were all locked in. Today they needed me to hit that shot, but next game it could be someone else.”

Williams is no stranger to playing at the Palestra, and neither is PCL co-MVP Thomas Sorber and fellow senior Jaden Murray, who all played when Ryan played there twice two years ago, both in the semifinals and the finals.

But instead of being the younger guy looking up to players like Jalen Snead, he’s going to be the mentor.

“I played there as a sophomore and it’s ridiculous playing on that floor,” Williams said. “It’s up tempo, always packed and everyone loves playing there. Everybody wants to go there. It hurt not going last year, but I’m happy to be going this year.”

But his role has changed. 

“When I was a sophomore, I was lucky because Jalen Snead was on the team and I learned so much from him,” Williams said. “Even before Ryan, I knew him. He’s a great player, so I watched him, especially as a leader and as a defensive player.

“I do like that I’m able to do for our younger guys what Jalen did for me. Especially for our younger guys. We have guys who are stepping up every game. I love playing with this team. I have Thomas, I know he can do anything. He always has my back. And same with Jaden. We’ve been best friends. The seniors clicked immediately.

“That’s the best part about this team. It’s not one guy. It’s not two or three guys. It’s not the seniors. It’s one through 15 and we all love playing together, we all trust each other and we all have fun.”

Williams would love to go out a champ, and he’s excited about what lies ahead. Next year, he’ll continue his career at Florida Gulf Coast. He’ll join Rahmir Barno, a freshman guard who graduated from Imhotep Charter. Williams is majoring in business.

“It’s a beautiful school,” Williams said. “I’m really excited about playing there. I’ll major in business. I’m not sure what I want to do. I want to make money.”

No matter where he goes and what he does, he’ll have a great support system, which includes his family and the coaches at Ryan.

Oh, and then there are those wild Raider fans. 

“The atmosphere playing at Ryan is the best,” Williams said. “Everyone from the Northeast comes out any time we have a big game. It means a lot. It’s important. 

“I love how people acknowledge who we are, not as players, but as people. It’s bigger than basketball. You have to be a good person. That’s how we’re taught and it’s how we are.”

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