At first Vandy fans are a bit surprised to learn that Anthony Williams, one of Vanderbilt's greatest career rebounders, now makes his career in Auburn, Alabama. During his four-year career as a Commodore, Williams commonly went to war against Auburn University, as well as other foes around the SEC.
But it's less surprising when one considers that Williams, the former Vanderbilt rebounding specialist, is now only 15 minutes away from his hometown of Waverly, Alabama-- where he once set a state schoolboy record for career rebounds.
Now back home and close to family, Williams has put SEC basketball behind him, and has begun a new career as a teacher, coach and part-time youth pastor.
Before his graduation from Vanderbilt in 2001, Williams accepted a teaching position at Auburn High School as part of the Alternative School (also known in less politically correct times as "reform school"). It's where troubled students are sent-- kids who can't seem to fit into the mainstream. Williams is assigned to teach a designated group of four to five high school students, whom he lectures daily in all of their core subjects-- science, math, social studies, etc.
It's one of the most challenging teaching assignments a rookie teacher could possibly land. But Williams, an education major who devoted a good bit of his spare time while in Nashville to charitable work and underprivileged youth, recently told VandyMania that he feels uniquely prepared for such an opportunity and is relishing the challenge.
"I'm just trying to change their mindset about accomplishing goals and setting goals," said Williams. "Most of them are from troubled families, or from single-parent homes-- they're kids that really weren't given a fair shot from birth."
Williams, who was heavily recruited as a basketball player at Loachapoka High School in the mid-90's, found himself experiencing recruiting all over again upon nearing his college graduation. Marvin Brown, an administrative assistant at AHS, had tracked Williams' collegiate career and figured that if Anthony didn't continue playing basketball, he would be a natural for the job at Auburn's Alternative School.
Brown and the superintendent called Vanderbilt to contact the Commodore basketball star about the job.
"At first I didn't think it would be something I'd be interested in," said Williams, who is now nearing the end of his first year as a member of the Auburn High faculty. "But the more I thought about it and the more I prayed about it, the more I realized it was a very good opportunity."
Not surprisingly, Williams was also asked to join the Auburn boys' basketball coaching staff as an assistant under 30-year veteran head coach Frank Tolbert. Auburn, a storied basketball program in Alabama, had a rare losing season this past year, but Williams says that "in two years we'll be playing for a state championship again."
Always outspoken with his Christian beliefs, Williams stays busy on weekends too, as a youth pastor at Faith Christian Center. As a minister to a group of about 40 kids from ages 4 to 19, Williams prepares a weekly "sermon" for the group. "Every week I have to prepare a Bible message just like the pastor," Williams said. "This weekend another pastor and I are taking all the boys on a retreat."
"[The chance to work as a youth pastor] played a huge part in my decision [to come to Auburn]," said Williams. "I knew I could make a big impact there."
Do his students at school and church realize that Williams is a former college basketball player? "Yeah, they know," he laughs. "That's why they look up to me. A lot of them want to go where I've been, and that opens a door for me."
Next fall Williams will begin pursuing his master's in education at Auburn University. Wedding bells are also in Williams' future-- in June he plans to marry Leslie Eason, a University of Georgia law student whom he met as an undergraduate at Vanderbilt.
One wonders when Williams has time for sleep. But Williams also learned many valuable time management skills while at Vanderbilt-- fans may recall that in his final semester, he balanced playing SEC basketball with the rigorous demands of student-teaching at a Nashville high school.
"It was tough-- very tough," he laughs now. "I look back at that experience now and wonder myself how I made it."
At Vandy, Williams played two years under Jan van Breda Kolff and two years under Kevin Stallings. Under their tutelage, the 6-7, 245-pounder collected 669 rebounds, which places him in the record book as the school's No. 8 career rebounder.
In perhaps his most memorable game as a Commodore, he scored 22 points and pulled down 12 rebounds in a thrilling, 85-72 upset win over Tennessee at Memorial Gym.
Though he committed himself to basketball and improved greatly during his four-year career, Williams always marched to his own drummer. Though endowed by the Creator with great physical gifts, Williams realized early in life that there was more to life than hoops. Though playing in the SEC was an unforgettable experience, he says he has found even greater fulfillment in his current position(s).
"I believe I'm in God's will right now, and I'm enjoying what I'm doing," he says. "That's where true happiness comes from-- being in the will of God."
Though he's not had much contact with Stallings since graduation, Williams remains close to his former teammate of four years, Greg LaPointe. "He and I talk three or four times a month," says Williams. "He's working with a company out of Nashville, but does a lot of his work in Memphis."
Far too busy to make any Commodore basketball games in person this past year, Williams now keeps up with the Commodores the same way many displaced fans do-- over the Internet. "I always check the box score and read the post-game report," he says.