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Daivien Williamson hopes to lead East Tennessee State to the NCAA Tournament

The Bucs have a chance at a big year in 2019-20, and it all starts with their point guard

Dakota Hamilton/ETSU

Daivien Williamson is fresh off an outstanding freshman season at East Tennessee State, but he’s looking for more.

The SoCon All-Freshman team member was part of a Bucs team that went 24-10 in 2018-19, which included a 13-5 mark in Southern Conference play. That was good enough for a fourth-place finish in a league that ranked 11th in the NET rankings this past season.

So far so good for Williamson, as he admits ETSU was the perfect destination for him as both a player and person. Now finished with his freshman season and back in his home town of Winston-Salem, Williamson has had some time to reflect on his first year in Johnson City.

“It’s been a fun experience coming from a real small high school here in North Carolina and coming to ETSU,” Williamson said. “It’s definitely been a learning experience and I have had to grow as a player, and as a person on and off the court and it has been really fun being around a real great group of older guys who I learned a lot from.”

During the recruiting process, ETSU, Furman, UNCG and Wofford all showed interest at one point or another, but Furman and UNCG never formally offered him a scholarship. So his decision came down to ETSU and Wofford.

Wofford that was a thorn in ETSU’s side all year, including in the SoCon Tournament when the Terriers officially ended the Bucs’ NCAA Tournament hopes.

“That Wofford loss left a bitter taste in our mouths last season, and that is going to serve as a motivating factor for us to get better during the offseason,” Williamson said. “We want to dedicate ourselves to having that championship focus and mentality that Wofford had last year.”

The 6-2 point guard is coming off a 2018-19 season which saw him average 9.5 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. He also dished out 81 assists and only turned it over 44 times. Last season, Williamson teamed at different times with Isaiah Tisdale, Patrick Good, Bo Hodges and Tray Boyd III in a backcourt that was among the best in the Southern Conference, and expects to be even better next season.

“I think learning from the older guys helped me a lot,” Williamson said. “Isaiah [Tisdale] was up there in the national stats in assist/turnover ratio. He had a real good understanding of the game and tempo and stuff like that, and that helped me as a player. He was always there to give me pointers and tips to help my game, and I think that maybe helped me be more mature and take better care of the basketball.”

Not only does Williamson take excellent care of the basketball, but he also is one of the team’s best shooters. It took him a while to adjust to the college game, but when he did, he gained confidence and became one of the best freshman performers in the SoCon. He finished his rookie season connecting on 38.6 percent (27-of-70) from three-point range and shot 42 percent from three over the team’s last 18 games.

Williamson had some excellent performances in the non-conference, but was inconsistent. In the championship of the Sun Bowl Tournament against Norfolk State, Williamson put up a 15-point effort. He followed that up with a 13-point game in a win against once-ranked Furman.

The 15- and 13-point efforts, respectively, were the first time Williamson had put together back-to-back double-figure scoring performances in his freshman season. His top performance came in a win at The Citadel when he scored 24 in a 25-point win. Williamson also posted a 23-point effort in leading the Bucs to home win over VMI. The Bucs were 3-0 when Williamson scored 20 or more points last season.

Williamson scored in double figures in 13 games last season, with the Bucs going 10-3 in those contests. He started 16 games, and the Bucs went 12-4 in them.

“We have to find that edge like coach [Steve] Forbes always talks about,” he said. “Wofford had it last season. We’ve got to be that team this season and we can’t forget that bitter taste we had in our mouths from that loss to them in the tournament. That has to motivate us in our workouts throughout the summer.”

As a sophomore, Williamson hopes to lead the Bucs to a Wofford-like season, and with most of the important pieces returning to the fold, it’s a real possibility.

ETSU did bring in 10 newcomers last season that had never played together. Gaining that edge as Forbes and Williamson are referring to likely comes with maturity. Now with a season under their belts playing together, and with the top six scorers returning from last season, that edge might soon be on display in Johnson City.

“We know we have a chance to do something special, but we really don’t talk about it all that much. We know what we have to do get there in putting in our work over the summer, and we know we have to find that edge so we can make sure we play with that edge next season in this tough league.”