Slowly but surely, Corey Williams is building something special in DeLand.
Williams has been deliberate in his quest to turn the Hatters into a winner. He hasn’t gone for the quick fix. He is building a program, not just a team. And that program is on the verge.
At the end of the 2015-16 season, Williams’ efforts finally began to pay off. The Hatters closed the regular season with a thrilling 80-73 win over conference foe FGCU, then steamrolled their way to a pair of Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament victories to reach the tournament finals for the first time since 1994.
With a championship on the line, Williams guided a senior-less roster to within a basket of winning the title as the Hatters lost 80-78 in overtime at FGCU. Despite the defeat, Williams and the Hatters served notice that the rebuild is nearing completion.
As he enters his fourth season at Stetson, Williams has assembled his most talented and experienced team. Williams knows something about talent and experience. With an NBA championship and nine NCAA Tournaments as both a player and coach on his resume, he knows what it takes to be a winner.
Williams was named the 21st head coach in program history on June 3, 2013 -- less than 10 weeks before the start of the school year.
“I’m excited,” Williams said at the press conference announcing his hire. “To be able to lead this program means an awful lot to me and my family. I knew back when I first started out in this profession that my ambition was always to be a head coach. For Stetson University to give me this opportunity, I’m very grateful. I’m humbled, I’m grateful.”
“Stetson University is privileged to be able to call Corey Williams our new men’s basketball head coach,” Stetson Director of Athletics Jeff Altier said that day. “Corey is a winner, he has worked with and played for some of the finest minds in the world of basketball and as such he understands the discipline, commitment and strategy that is needed to be successful. Everywhere Corey has played or coached his teams have won and won big, and I am excited to have him as a part of the Stetson team.”
Williams’ third season got off to a rough start as one of the nation’s youngest rosters struggled to gel, but there were some bright spots: a come-from-behind win at FIU in November; another tough road win at Kennesaw State in early January; and an impressive near-comeback at Marquette on national television the same month gave fans and Williams an idea that more was on the way.
With freshman Derick Newton and junior Brian Pegg leading the way the Hatters became a post-season force. Pegg led the A-Sun in rebounding and Newton rewrote Stetson’s freshman record book on his way to earning Freshman All-America and A-Sun Freshman of the Year honors.
In his second season roaming the sidelines at the Edmunds Center, Williams guided one of the youngest teams in the country to a second straight Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament appearance. With a lineup regularly featuring two or even three freshmen, Williams kept the Hatters competitive throughout the 2014-15 season while also laying the foundation for a strong future.
The young talent last season was evident. Guards Grant Lozoya and Divine Myles earned spots on the A-Sun’s All-Freshmen teams, while fellow freshman Angel Rivera set the program’s record for assists by a freshman with 120. He and Myles also became the first teammates, regardless of class, to each record 100 assists in the same season.
After opening his rookie coaching season with eight consecutive games away from home, Williams earned his first career head coaching victory with a 56-52 win over Volusia County rival Bethune-Cookman on Dec. 3, 2013 in DeLand. The Hatters struggled throughout the year, however, and finished the season with a 7-24 mark.
Williams has been blessed throughout his basketball playing and coaching career to be surrounded by and learn from some of the finest minds in the game, including Phil Jackson, Eddie Sutton, Bill Self and Leonard Hamilton.
A native of Macon, Ga., Williams played point guard at Oklahoma State. He had a lengthy career as a professional player, spending his rookie season in the NBA with the Chicago Bulls where he was a part of the 1993 NBA Championship team, before starting his coaching career.
Prior to taking the reins at Stetson, Williams spent six seasons as an assistant at Florida State. His career with the Seminoles coincided with the team’s winningest five-year period, beginning in 2007-08. During this time the team won its first ACC Championship, enjoyed a school-record run of four straight NCAA Tournament appearances, four consecutive years of double digit wins in ACC play, produced five NBA Draft picks, recorded 16 wins over nationally ranked teams and appeared in the national rankings in four straight seasons.
Williams assisted in the development of the Seminoles into one of the best programs in the ACC with the perseverance that has also made him one of the nation’s top recruiters. He was instrumental in Florida State’s run to the 2011 NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 as well as the 2012 ACC Championship.
Before joining the Florida State staff, Williams was an assistant coach for seven seasons at Oral Roberts where he aided the Golden Eagles in achieving an average of 18 wins per season, including 20 or more wins in each of his last three seasons in Tulsa. ORU captured the Mid-Continent Conference regular season and tournament titles in 2006 and 2007, advancing to play in the NCAA Tournament each season. The 2006-07 squad not only finished with a 23-11 record, but the Golden Eagles also stunned the college basketball world when they defeated then-No. 3 Kansas, 78-71, in an early-season game at legendary Allen Fieldhouse.
Williams played collegiately at Oklahoma State from 1989-1992. He finished his career eighth on OSU’s career scoring charts with 1,320 points. During his collegiate playing career he helped lead the Cowboys to consecutive NCAA Tournament Sweet 16 appearances under Coach Eddie Sutton in 1991 and 1992. The Cowboys were ranked 14th in the final Associated Press poll of the 1991 season and 10th in the final coaches’ poll following the 1992 season. With Williams in Oklahoma State’s line-up for 128 games during his four-year varsity career, the Cowboys ranked as one of the top teams statistically in the nation.
Following the conclusion of his collegiate career, Williams was a 2nd-round draft pick of the Chicago Bulls, but that wasn’t his only professional opportunity. Despite having not played football since junior high, the Kansas City Chiefs selected Williams in the 12th round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He was the only OSU Cowboy drafted that year.
As a rookie in the NBA, Williams was a member of the Michael Jordan-led Bulls as the franchise captured its third straight NBA title. Following his one season in Chicago, Williams played parts of the next season with the Minnesota Timberwolves, while also playing for the Oklahoma City Cavalry of the CBA. He returned to Oklahoma State as a student assistant in 1994, serving as a member of the Cowboys’ staff during their 1994 Final Four campaign. Williams then played and coached professionally in Taiwan, from 1995-98.
Williams, 46, earned his bachelor’s degree in education from Oklahoma State in 2002. He and his wife, Nicole, have two children: Jourdan (17) and Corey, Jr. (13).