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Morgan Park's Markee Williams brings the ball down aginst Cahokia. | Patrick Gleason~For Sun-Times Media
Markee Williams was the center of calm amid the madcap scene at the center of Carver Arena in Peoria Saturday after Morgan Park defeated Cahokia 63-48 for the Class 3A state championship.
He was certainly happy though also in a reflective mood.
“I was just thinking of my grandmother and some of my aunts who have passed, and that’s who I played for and dedicated the season to,” the 5-11 senior point guard said.
Williams is the one who is best equipped to assimilate his game to meet whatever the Mustangs needed. He was quietly, consistently good over the weekend. In the title game, Williams’ eary shooting prowess sparked the Mustangs. He scored 13 points and added five rebounds as Morgan Park captured its first state basketball title since 1976.
Williams also starred in the rout of Limestone the previous day with nine points, two rebounds, a steal and assist.
For his accomplishments, Williams is the Chicago Sun-Times Athlete of the Week.
Every state champion team features its share of personalities, talents and outsized characters. The story of Williams was circuitous and somewhat unorthodox. After the Bulls won the 1992 NBA championship, coach Phil Jackson quoted the Grateful Dead’s “long, strange trip,” a notion Williams certainly identifies with.
Williams burst on the scene at Morgan Park as a freshman who helped the Mustangs capture the Public League city title. Even more so than Billy Garrett Jr., a DePaul-recruit, Williams was the secondary scorer to star Wayne Blackshear.
“That was all about Nick [Irvin, Morgan Park coach],” Williams said. “When I got to Morgan Park, he told me was going to make me into a scorer and he gave me the confidence to be that kind of player.”
After his sophomore year, somewhat disenchanted with his role as Garrett’s star began to ascend, Williams transferred to Crane. He never played for the Cougars after questions were raised by CPS officials. He returned to Morgan Park the next year but was forced to sit out the basketball season due to transfer rules.
“Everybody welcomed me back with open arms,” he said. “The players, the coaches, even the teachers, they all were happy to see me,” he said.
His impulsive decision to leave and his year away from active competition taught him some harsh lessons.
“I learned about being humble and accepting my role and doing what’s best for the team,” Williams said.
Williams’ game changed as well.
“We had a different team back when Markee was here originally, and he was a different player,” Garrett Jr. said. “We needed him to score more.”
Williams evolved into a defensive oriented player who ran the team. He still posted decent averages of 10 points, six assists and four rebounds for the 33-3 Mustangs.
“He sacrificed his game once he came back,” Irvin said. “It didn’t matter. I told him even after he left I still loved him, and we’d be there for him.”
Williams’ niche on the team was a glue player who helped the team’s very talented though disparate parts cohere.
“I think the best part of my game is my leadership and my willingness to do whatever it takes to win,” he said. “All I wanted to do was win.”
His college recruiting has been fairly quiet, no doubt because he missed his junior year and recruiters are now playing catch up.
“I think it should heat up after the week I just had,” he said.
Mostly, Williams was thinkful for the second chance. Wearing his state championship medal and holding a special front page edition of the Peoria paper that announced the Mustangs’ state title, Williams had come home.
“This is just great,” he said.
Markee Williams Favorites
Favorite sport: Basketball
Favorite team: Bulls
Favorite athlete: LeBron James
Favorite food: Pizza
Favorite rapper: Lil Wayne
Favorite movie: He Got Game
Favorite TV show: Martin
Favorite teacher: Morgan Park history instructor Mr. Fitz
Favorite video game console: X-Box 360