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.