WILDWOOD – As a Division I recruit, Mason Williams is used to being guarded closely.
On Wednesday night, he saw some familiar faces really close in the Ernie Troiano Sr. Memorial Boys Showcase.
Williams, a talented senior swingman on the Penn Charter boys’ basketball team, played against Shawnee on the boardwalk at the Wildwood Convention Center. He knows the players from Medford since he grew up facing them for years when he played for the Voorhees youth teams before going to high school in Pennsylvania.
“It’s one of the only times I play against a Jersey team so it’s hard to come back here and lose,” said Williams, who still lives in Voorhees with his family.
The smooth 6-foot-3 Williams scored a team-high 15 points in the 69-46 loss to powerful Shawnee.
Williams, who is being recruited by the University of Pennsylvania and Fordham, shot 7-for-16 against Shawnee’s stingy man defense in 29 minutes of play.
“We used to play against him in middle school,” Shawnee senior forward Daevon Robinson recalled after grabbing a game-high 12 rebounds. “We tried to contain him, but he had a pretty good game.”
Shawnee, which started five underclassmen in the Group 4 state title game last season, improved to 3-1 with the win. The Renegades’ only loss was to powerful Gill St. Bernards in their season opener.
“They put a lot of pressure on you defensely,” Williams said. “They play off the ball tough.”
Williams played youth basketball in Voorhees with Jesse Barbera, Onye Okoro and Troy Edwards, who all start for the Eastern High School basketball team. Williams was also a youth teammate of Matt Cotton, who is currently sitting out under the transfer rule but will be eligible in mid-January for Eastern coach Kevin Crawford.
The Vikings – along with Shawnee - are one of the favorites to win South Jersey Group 4 with Cotton, a 6-foot-5 senior who transferred from St. Benedicts and is committed to Yale University, so you can imagine how good Eastern would be if Williams stayed on the Jersey side. In addition to Cotton, the 6-7 Okoro collected 17 points and 13 rebounds last week in a win over Cherry Hill East while Edwards, a 6-2 swingman, scored 15 against the Cougars while Barbera runs the show at the point.
“I wish he came here,” said Barbera, a three-year starter, about Williams, “we’re good friends.”
Williams was coached in South Jersey travel youth hoops by Barbera’s father Kurt, a star basketball player in the mid-1970’s at Cherry Hill East and then Rowan University. They won the travel title as 8th graders with an 18-0 season.
“He is a great kid from a great family,” Kurt said.
It is certainly no slight on Eastern because it is understandable why Penn Charter attracts elite student-athletes like Williams. The prestigious school, which was founded by William Penn, lists among its graduates former Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., former Kansas City Royals pitcher Mark Gubicza, former NBA forward Rob Kurz, Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan, Notre Dame’s all-American offensive lineman Matt McGlinchey and former Olympian rower John Kelly Jr., the brother of Princess Grace Kelly of Monaco.
And Williams is enjoying his final season of high school ball across the river with classmates Jake Nicastro, Will Samuel, Chris Thomas and Ryan Dickson, who lives in Mt. Laurel and also makes the commute to Penn Charter.
“It feels good playing with them since freshman year and seeing how they all have become successful,” Williams said.
NIcastro feels Williams is a special player.
“I think because he's really and truly concerned about making his teammates better and will always point out little things to talk about or notice that could help us out,” said Nicastro, a crafty point guard who also has South Jersey roots as his mother, Liz, was a star field hockey player on the Camden Catholic state championship team in the mid-1980’s. “He seems really quiet but he leads in his own way and everyone on the team is really good friends with him.”
The Quakers (8-4) compete in the respected Inter-Ac conference and according to veteran Philadelphia scholastic sports writer Ted Silary, who was at the Shawnee game, Penn Charter should compete for the league title.
Two weeks ago, Williams scored 31 points in a 78-74 overtime win over Shipley.
Williams’ father Keith is a psychology professor at Stockton University. Keith Williams, who had a football scholarship offer to play at South Dakota State, played basketball collegiately at Macalester in Minnesota.
Mason is interested in studying behavior psychology in college.
“I find it interesting what my dad does,” he said.
Dickson’s father Joe, who can be seen around South Jersey coaching youth sports, also played basketball in college. Ryan Dickson is going to Hobart to play lacrosse.
“We have such good chemistry this year and we’re meshing really well,” Williams said. “it’s a great group of kids and I’m glad I got this opportunity.”
Williams will see some more familiar faces when Penn Charter plays Cherokee on Thursday night in another game in Wildwood.
“I know the guys on Cherokee, too, and that’ll be another tough game," he said.