Back home in Louisiana, Markel Brown and Brian Williams ruled the high school hardcourts as friends and rivals and the state's finest.
Brown, from Peabody Magnet High in Alexandria, was Louisiana's Mr. Basketball as a senior in 2010. Williams, from Glen Oaks in Baton Rouge, took the honor as a junior the year before.
So, whose Mr. Basketball nod is most legit?
“Of course, I would say mine,” Williams said with a laugh as Brown stood nearby. “My team was a little less talented, so I had to do more. He had a couple of guys who could really play ball.”
Brown still finds himself flanked by superior talent — including Williams, who is fast becoming a major factor in Oklahoma State's continuing rise among the nation's elite.
The Cowboys have headliners in Marcus Smart, Brown and Le'Bryan Nash.
They have specialists in Michael Cobbins and Phil Forte.
And they have Williams, who offers a little — and sometimes a lot — of everything as a glue guy to a team ranked No. 5 at 5-0 entering the Old Spice Classic. OSU's opener in Kissimmee, Fla., comes Thursday at 11 a.m. against Purdue.
“Any successful team has to have a guy like Brian Williams,” said Cowboys coach Travis Ford. “I say that in an extremely positive way. He's a guy who can jump up and be a difference-maker.
“We need him to get his 12, 16, 18 points at times; six to eight to 10 rebounds. And that's what he's done. He's a great defender. He plays with a tremendous amount of energy. I just love the consistency he's been playing with lately.”
Lately is the telling word, as the 6-foot-5 junior missed much of last season due to a severe wrist injury and was never himself once returning in late January.
That he played at all is a testament to his healing powers and his toughness and will. Out of control while dunking during an October workout, Williams fell to the ground and instinctively put his hand down to ease the fall. But the impact broke three bones and damaged ligaments and tendons in his left wrist, seemingly ending his season.
Yet he worked to return, and did, averaging 4.1 points, 1.9 rebounds and 15.7 minutes as a reserve in 14 games.
At best, Williams said, he felt 60-70 percent effective at any time last season.
“The wrist was hurting and I was out of shape when I came back, so I wasn't playing my best ball,” he said. “Right now, I'm 100 percent. I feel good playing and I'm starting to click with the guys. The chemistry is good.”
The production is good, too, with Williams back as a starter, providing 11.6 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.2 steals and 1.2 assists. And those numbers are light, due to limited minutes in OSU's three early season nonconference routs. Against Memphis, Williams had 15 points and eight rebounds, followed by a 13-point, five-board, two-assist night at South Florida.
On a team loaded with athletes, he's among the elite. Ford hails him as the team's best defender, capable of guarding four positions. He leads the Cowboys with 10 offensive rebounds.
And he leads the squad in another important, if immeasurable category: energy.
That's one thing Williams brings consistently, a seemingly endless supply of energy.
“When you've got that, everything kind of takes care of itself,” Williams said. “The scoring, the rebounding … you get steals. When I play with energy, good things always seem to happen.”
And that energy plays everywhere on any night. When shots aren't falling and teammates might be dragging, Williams provides a pick-me-up.
“Brian brings a lot of energy to this team,” Brown said. “We feed off that big time. Any time we need a big play, Brian's there to do it, whether it's shooting the gap and getting a wide-open dunk or getting a defensive stop or knocking down an open shot. We feed off him big time.
“He gets the team going in a lot of different ways. Good teams need guys like Brian.”
The Cowboys look like a better team with Williams.
And it's becoming clearer and clearer how much they missed him last season.
This is actually the second time Williams has had to practice patience at OSU. As a redshirt freshman, he was buried deep on the bench until injuries and defections offered opportunity, which he seized.
“I had a couple guys in front of me and I was frustrated with the whole situation,” Williams said. “But a couple of guys got hurt, a couple of guys transferred. And I just took advantage of the opportunity. Because if I didn't, he would have just brought in some more guys and I'd be sitting behind them again now.
“I just saw that I had a chance to play, a chance to produce and I did the most I could with it. I think it was very important for my career, because it kind of solidified me to get playing time, because they saw what I could do.”
Williams started the final 20 games that season, producing four 20-point games and hinting at better things to come.
And once again, those things are coming.