STRATFORD–Preston Williams was getting frustrated, so Stratford High boys basketball coach Tim Swaller did what coaches do.
He pulled his senior starting forward off the floor and gave him a seat on the bench.
“He was a little sluggish to start the game,” Swaller said. “He wasn’t in rhythm. He was a little down on himself.”
Swaller added one more caveat to his comment.
“But we need him,” the coach said.
Every team has a player like Williams, one that is barely noticed because his statistical line is so … well, to be honest, unspectacular.
Stratford has shooters: The August brothers, Mike and Joe; Jack Ryan, John Bike, Zack Fedak. When one of them gets hot, they can appear to win a game single-handedly.
Stratford has guys who can slash to the basket, draw fouls, finish and play great shut-down defense, too.
And, Stratford has a guy who does everything else in the shadows of all the swished 3-pointers, spectacular no-look passes and great finishes at the rim.
The Red Devils have Preston Williams.
“Sometimes Preston does things that don’t show up in the box score,” said Mike August, one of Stratford senior tri-captains. “But our team is not at full strength if Preston doesn’t play. We don’t live up to our expectations. He plays a huge part of our team.”
Williams is the blue-collar guy underneath the basket for Stratford, which improved to 6-4 on the season with a 60-48 win over New Fairfield on Thursday night inside the Needham Gymnasium.
He stands only 6-foot-2, but he’s expected to play bigger, clogging the lane defensively and grabbing as many rebounds as he can get his hands on.
He’s like the guy who boards the train at the Stratford Train Station, sits in the same seat every trip and heads off to the city to get his job done.
At the end of the day, he returns home knowing he put in a full day’s worth of work.
In a nutshell, that’s Williams on a basketball court.
Against New Fairfield, that consistency was exactly what Stratford needed to help pull out the win.
Two points in the first quarter. A conventional 3-point play in the second quarter. Another bucket in the third.
And we can’t forget the huge 3-pointer Williams made to open the fourth quarter as New Fairfield desperately tried to stay in the game.
Add it all up and Williams had 10 important points in his team’s win.
“Preston played awesome for us,” Mike August said.
And the coach who sat him down in the first quarter agreed.
“I told him after the game I was pleased with how he responded,” Swaller said. “He knew it and he was able to refocus. We had a huge second half, but he did the things we expected him to do.”
That’s what makes Williams the most dangerous.
He knows his role and he embraces it full-force.
“I try to leave it all out on the floor every time I can,” Williams said. “I’m not a big scorer, but I’m more a rebounding type. Usually, it’s Mikey or Jack or Joe that can get us going. It can be any one of us.”
On this night, though, Williams had his hand in the scoring bin, from the low post to beyond the arc.
And it was vital to his team’s victory.
“It just happened to flow,” Williams said. “Sometimes they go in the basket for me, sometimes they don’t. I just keep working no matter what.”
It’s a lesson all the younger Red Devils can learn.
It’s a lesson every single basketball player who laces up a pair of high tops can learn.
Keep working, no matter what.
It’s a team game from start to finish.
Stratford High’s Preston Williams is proof of that.
“On the Sidelines” is a periodical online column written by Stratford Sports Scene managing editor John Nash.