Nov. 15, 1998
By Lisa Nelson
Built more like a willow tree than a sequoia, Notre Dame sophomore Leviticus Williamson is just starting to grow into his roots. After a stellar high school basketball career where he averaged over 23 points and 12.9 rebounds a game, Williamson enjoyed the promise of a even better college career. His first year was hardly what he expected as this willow tree kept swaying and bending in the hurricane force winds blown by his bigger and stronger opponents in the BIG EAST Conference. Williamson, though wind-blown, did not break, instead realizing that he needed to work even harder making the transition in hopes of becoming the sequoia among the many tress in the BIG EAST forest. A lanky 6-6 sophomore forward, Williamson did not go to his home of Spring, Texas, for a summer vacation of relaxing, spending time with his friends and going to the beach. Instead, Williamson gave all that up to stay at Notre Dame and work on his strength. With new assistant strength and conditioning coach Tony Roliniski, Williamson dedicated himself to an off-season program meant to put some much needed muscle and bulk on his wiry 195-pound frame.
Through a series of intense workouts, Williamson added 10 pounds by the end of the summer and increased his upper body strength, without losing the mobility and quickness that made him one of the best recruits to come out of the state of Texas in 1997.
A captain and team most valuable player his senior year at Spring High School, Williamson was the second-leading scorer in the Houston area during his final campaign. He was named all-conference his senior year after earning second-team all-district honors as a junior after averaging 15.2 points, 10.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a contest. Also highly regarded nationally, Williamson was selected to play in a number of all-star games, including the Coca-Cola All-Star game at the Joyce Center with current Irish guard Martin Ingelsby. Williamson gave Irish fans something to look forward to after scoring 16 points and pulling down nine rebounds. After being recruited by a number of schools around the nation, Williamson chose Notre Dame after “a higher power” made the decision for him. That higher power was not who one might think it is was, but instead his mother, Robin.
“As soon as Notre Dame called, my mother said there was not a decision to be made anymore,” says Williamson. “I was going to Notre Dame. With the great educational opportunities and the athletics program, my mom said we could cross everyone else off the list because I was going to Notre Dame. I knew Notre Dame would be a great place for me so I didn’t have any objections.”
With high expectations placed upon him by the Irish faithful, Williamson entered the Notre Dame rotation immediately seeing action in 24 games as the backup to starter Derek Manner. Williamson earned a start against Northeastern in only his third game with the Irish after Manner could not make the horn with shin splints. For the season, Williamson averaged two points and a rebound in eight minutes of action off the bench – not the immediate impact Williamson had expected after his high school glory days. It was then he also learned he was a mere sapling compared to the many mature trees in the BIG EAST.
“When I went out there it kind of shocked me,” Williamson says. talking about the BIG EAST Conference. “I really didn’t expect what the BIG EAST Conference was like. I just had a little idea.”
“The physical play is the biggest adjustment from high school to college for any player,” Irish head coach John MacLeod admits. “The physical play, along with the quickness and the pressure, is where Leviticus learned he had to improve.”
So Williamson took it upon himself to heed MacLeod’s warning and hit it hard in the weight room this summer.
“Staying at Notre Dame over the summer was the best thing I could have done,” Williamson says. “Our new strength and conditioning staff put me through a number of strenuous workouts which made me stronger when the preseason started. I worked harder this summer than I ever had before and it paid off for me.”
This summer also marked the first time that Williamson realized how important off-court preparation is in making his on-court game better. Knowing that he had many of the athletic skills needed to be successful on the hardwood, Williamson spent more time with weights in his hands than a basketball. Was that a difficult adjustment for him?
“It actually made things easier for me,” Williamson claims. “I was able to focus on only getting stronger. It was my main objective over the summer. I put all my energies into that. On the court, there are so many different aspects you have to focus on. You cannot concentrate on only one thing like you can off the court.”
Gaining 10 pounds this summer, Williamson hopes to add 15-20 more pounds in the next year and finally fill out that still growing body of his.
“I just have to continue to dedicate myself to the weight room and work hard,” Williamson says. “It is much harder than people think to put on bulk and muscle, but I am sticking to the program and am seeing some results. Hopefully, I will continue to see results as the year goes on both on and off the court.”
Summer is over now and Williamson has dropped the weights, although not completely, for the rock. After a somewhat disappointing first season, Williamson is looking to make a bigger impact this year. In the first two exhibition games of the year, Williamson showed off some of that newly formed muscle, in limited action as MacLeod tried to get the Irish freshman valuable minutes, while playing almost the entire roster against One World Basketball and Team Fokus. Against One World, Williamson scored two points in three minutes, and against Team Fokus he ripped down three rebounds, including two on the offensive boards against much stronger opponents in five minutes of action.
“I expect to be a starter eventually,” Williamson claims. “If I end up not starting, then I need to be a major contributor off the bench. Everyone needs to step up their game this year with Pat (Garrity) gone. But we have much more depth this year and everyone can contribute. We have a deeper bench and the freshman are doing exceptionally well in challenging all of the veterans. We are not as bad off as everyone thinks. I think we are going to surprise a lot of people and hopefully go to the NCAA tournament.”