Prep basketball: Abel, Williams make plans known
By Mike London
Thaddeus Williams and Brandon Abel, All-CCC seniors who were instrumental in Salisbury’s 28-2 basketball season, have made next-level decisions.
Williams, a 5-foot-11 point guard who made the Hornets deadly on the run and efficient when they played halfcourt, is headed to Division II Johnson C. Smith of the CIAA.
Abel, a 6-5 scorer with a soft shot and hard nose, also impressed J.C. Smith coaches Steve Joyner and Mark Sherrill. The Golden Bulls recommended the Heat Basketball Academy in Martinsville, Va., as Abel’s next stop.
You may not have heard of HBA because it’s almost brand new, but it’s a high-powered prep school. Ater Majok, who went on to Connecticut, led HBA to a 33-5 season in 2007-08 and put the program on the map.
At HBA, Abel has an opportunity to sharpen his academic credentials as well as his basketball skills. He’ll compete against a strong schedule while playing with talented teammates from around the globe.
Abel could sign with J.C. Smith down the road, but he’s not committed to the Golden Bulls.
“This is a chance for me to prove myself against tough competition,” Abel said. “Heat plays a really tough schedule, and I’m looking forward to that.”
Salisbury coach Jason Causby is happy. When doors open for guys you’ve worked with for four years, it’s a positive.
“Whenever you see your guys get the opportunity to go on and better themselves and get an education, you feel very good about it,” Causby said. “I feel as good about this as I do any of the wins we’ve had.”
Abel fought through knee issues, but he always was a workhorse for the Hornets. Causby will miss his presence on the boards.
Causby tossed Abel into the fire as a varsity freshman. There were times he learned the hard way, but Causby stuck with him and he matured on and off the floor each season.
Abel averaged 5.6 points as a freshman, 8.6 as a sophomore, 14.1 as a junior and 13.6 as a senior when the balanced Hornets were getting offense from eight players.
Abel made all-county twice, scored in double figures 58 times and topped 20 points nine times. He was at his best in the biggest games. He was phenomenal in the Sam Moir Christmas Classic his junior year, scoring 23 points in a double-overtime win against East Rowan in a semifinal and 24 against Davie in the championship game.
“Brandon always stepped up to the challenges,” Causby said.
In Salisbury’s ferocious CCC showdown with streaking Providence Grove last season, Abel had 29 points in his home gym. He had a career-best 31 in a playoff game against Wilkes Central a few weeks later.
“Wilkes Central was a good team, better than people gave them credit for, but Brandon put us on his back,” Causby said.
Abel wrapped his career as the No. 6 scorer in Salisbury history, going all the way back to the peach basket, and he’s fourth in the modern era.
“The only modern guys who scored more are Bobby Phillips, Bobby Jackson and Bryan Withers,” Causby said. “That’s good company. I don’t think Brandon appreciates yet what he accomplished.”
As tough, intimidating and consistent as Abel was, Causby says replacing Williams presents a tougher challenge. Point guards don’t grow on trees.
“I got spoiled by Thad,” Causby admitted. “Brandon was one heck of a player, but we’ve still got guys that can score. As far as replacing Thad we’ll be counting on our young guys, and we’ll be hard-pressed to find someone who can do the things he did. Thad made my job so much easier.”
Salisbury steadily got better the last four seasons posting records of 9-16, 18-10, 19-11 and 28-2. The 28-2 mark, the Hornets’ best season since 1992, included a 14-0 CCC mark and a stint as the No. 1-ranked team in 2A.
A key to that rise was Williams becoming an extension of Causby on the floor. He sacrificed his own offense to spread the ball around and keep all the scorers smiling.
Williams averaged 5.7 points as a senior and scored 319 points in his varsity career, numbers that usually make recruiters yawn, but J.C. Smith coaches read between the lines when they invited Williams for a tryout. They realized he was as good ó maybe better ó than players they’d already offered or were chasing. Some coaches dwell on what players can’t do. The Bulls looked at what he could do.
Williams is not a great shooter, but that’s the area any good athlete can improve with work. The stuff that can’t be taught ó vision, creativity and superior quickness ó are things he already owns.
“I wasn’t really worried about being recruited as time went by,” Williams said. “It was more like I was just waiting on that right place, and J.C. Smith feels like it’s the right place. They like the way I can push the ball, and they believe I can score in certain situations. They never doubted me.”
The plan is for Williams to redshirt next season and become a scholarship player his second academic year. He’ll get a reduced rate until his scholarship kicks in because his father works at Livingstone. Livingstone and J.C. Smith, which are among the state’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities, have a tuition exchange program.
“My dad was skeptical at first, but now he’s pleased about me going to Smith,” Williams said. “He’s glad I’m going right down the road and he’s glad I’m going to one of the HBCUs.”
While he’s saying goodbye to Williams and Abel, Causby will always remember that tense Providence Grove game. The clock was ticking toward 10 seconds left to play. The Hornets trailed by two in regulation.
Williams looked over at the bench. Causby didn’t call timeout, trusting Williams to get it done. Williams threaded the needle with a pass to Abel. He converted the tying bucket. The Hornets prevailed in overtime.
“Nothing but eye contact and hand signals, and the guys made that play,” Causby said. “I’m really gonna miss those two, but it’s been great watching them grow as players and as people.”