FRISCO, Texas – It’s been awhile since Nigel Williams-Goss last played basketball stateside. Two seasons, to be exact.
After a standout junior campaign at Gonzaga where the Washington transfer earned West Coast Conference Newcomer of the Year and Player of the Year honors in 2017, Williams-Goss declared for the NBA draft and was selected in the second round by Utah.
“It was probably one of the most fun times I’ve ever had playing basketball with a group of guys, a group of guys that I’m still really close with,” he said of his season in Spokane. “I just saw (GU head coach Mark) Few and those guys when they came over to play BYU (in February). Really, just like an extended family I gained by going up there.”
His NBA debut was delayed as he spent his first two professional seasons overseas. The ex-Zag first played in Serbia, where he was named MVP of the Serbia Cup. His second season abroad was with Greek powerhouse Olympiacos of the Euro League.
As Williams-Goss sees it, two years abroad was exactly what he needed, as a player and a person.
“Yeah, I think going overseas was an eye-opening experience, as far as just seeing parts of the world that I never had even thought about,” he said.
“It’s something that I grew to love. I really fell in love with the European culture. I think it just matured me. You go over there, you’re alone for 10 months and you grow up fast. It was a great experience, and something I would never trade in for anything.”
Not only does he consider himself more mature after two seasons abroad, but in his first year playing in the U.S. as a professional, he also sees how playing in Europe helped him smooth some rough edges in his game.
“Two years, that’s a long time. Definitely, I’ve improved in every aspect because I had so much time over there,” Williams-Goss said. “Over there with the rules, you really got to be able to shoot the ball to be effective. That was something I added, and handling defensive pressure. Over there, it’s very different. They’re picking up 94 feet for pretty much the whole game, so just dealing with that game-in and game-out, and still being able to be efficient and be effective, was really good for me to learn.”
Williams-Goss has spent the bulk of this season with the Jazz’s NBA G League affiliate, the Salt Lake City Stars. He has played in nine NBA games and has also frequently practiced with the Jazz, making a strong impression on Utah head coach Quin Snyder.
“Nigel’s got a unique ability to lead, and he makes everybody on the floor better because he’s got a good feel for the game,” Snyder said. “He also competes defensively. I know he’s working on other parts of his game too. Obviously, he’s spent a majority of time this year in the G League, and that’s one of the reasons, a big reason, that team has fared so well and won games.”
His NBA debut came on Oct. 25 in Los Angeles, when he got on the floor late at Staples Center during a loss to the Lakers. Williams-Goss’ most recent action with the Jazz came in January, but he hopes more NBA minutes are to come once the G League’s regular season concludes.
“Yeah, I think it’s a super small sample size, but obviously, it’s better than nothing. Just being around the guys and the organization for the year has really helped me,” he said. “I’ve learned a ton, and really just decided (to embrace) the opportunity when it presents itself to be ready to contribute. Really looking forward to it.”
Williams-Goss has played 17 games for the G League’s Stars and is averaging 15.3 points, 5.5 assists, 3.9 rebounds and 1.5 steals per game in nearly 30 minutes per game.
Although this is his first taste of the G League, the ex-Bulldog likes what he has seen.
“Well, I think it’s really good. Now there’s so many different uses for it,” Williams-Goss said. “For a guy like myself, when there’s not a lot of time with the Jazz, it’s great to just go down, stay sharp and stay in a game rhythm.
“For some of the younger guys, it’s great to go down there, develop their game and get used to playing against grown men and professional players. You can just get so much value in it for different things. Each NBA club uses it for their own needs and their own improvement.”
At 25, he’s a bit older than his fellow Jazz rookies, but his age doesn’t exclude him from the rites of passage that NBA rookies endure to pay their dues with their veteran teammates.
Williams-Goss’ duties are a bit tame compared to most.
“Yeah, nothing crazy, just little errands here and there,” he said. “We do have a little tradition where the rookies have to wear cartoon backpacks. I got a nice little Thomas the Train backpack that I keep with me when I travel. No, I got lucky. There are three or four other guys that got pink ones and princess ones. I don’t know if that’s because I’m not technically a rookie, and they took it a little easy on me.”
Stephen Hunt is a freelance writer based in Frisco, Texas.
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