This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
Jazz second-round draft pick Nigel Williams-Goss always had a plan. He would play a few years of college ball at the University of Washington, then declare for the NBA draft if his game was as ready as he thought it would be.
Then the plan changed.
Seeking more basketball sheen and a program with a higher national profile, Williams-Goss transferred and landed 275 miles east of UW, at Gonzaga University, a mid-major school that had a history of making the NCAA Tournament every year but could never crack the Final Four.
The NBA, Williams-Goss said, "is a grown man's league, on and off the court. I wanted to be as ready as possible when I made that jump. Yes, I had a good sophomore season but there were things I needed to polish up."
One thing Gonzaga has done over the years is cement itself as a premiere program when it comes to redshirting and developing players.
"He wants a plan and he has the ability to follow a plan," Gonzaga assistant coach Brian Michaelson said of Williams-Goss. "In a lot of ways that's what Gonzaga stands for and is what makes guys work here. I think in that time in his career, he was looking for the level of attention to detail that we could offer and the plan we had for him. It's why once he was here, both sides were able to deliver."
While Williams-Goss got the job done once he was on the floor, the process to get there was not an easy one.
An ankle injury and surgery kept him out of the gym and he was forced to sit on the bench all season and watch while Gonzaga had what fans categorized as a "bad season," even though the team still made the NCAA's Sweet Sixteen.
"There were a lot of ups and downs and it was definitely tough to get over that hump," said Williams-Goss. "I really looked in the mirror and asked myself: What are the areas of my game and my thought process off the floor that held me back? What was I doing that wasn't allowing me to reach my full capacity?"
Those questions were answered during his junior season.
His first game in a Zags uniform, Williams-Goss had 14 points, six assists and eight rebounds.
He improved almost all of his career averages in helping lead the Zags to a 37-2 finish, their first Final Four appearance and the national championship game.
However, with 1:25 remaining in the title game against North Carolina, Williams-Goss tweaked the ankle that kept him out of the gym during his redshirt season. Everything Gonzaga had worked toward that season quickly began to melt away. The final buzzer sounded and the game was over, with the Tar Heels winning 71-65. Fans cried, the GU students who drove the 23 hours from Spokane to Phoenix stood in silence and Williams-Goss crouched on the floor with tears streaming down his face, needing a teammate to help him up and off the court.
While it was hard to find positives in that moment, one person did. Virgil Williams-Goss had a message for his son.
"Even at the time when you know the fate of the game and you are going to lose, I felt like at that moment Nigel, and the whole Gonzaga community, were winners," said the elder William-Goss. "I never felt a sense of disappointment. When he came to me after the game I told him everything he wanted to achieve, he did. It's not always about winning or losing, it's about achieving your goals."
Fast-forward to draft night, when the Zags' leader a first-team Academic All-American (he earned a 4.0 GPA his final years at Gonzaga) was taken by the Jazz with the 55th pick overall.
Williams-Goss has been no stranger to Utah after multiple NCAA Tournament wins at Vivint Smart Home Arena, family and friends living in the state and a relationship with Jazz legend John Stockton, who put in a plug to Jazz GM Dennis Lindsey for the Gonzaga guard. Williams-Goss had Salt Lake City circled as a desired destination during the pre-draft process.
"[I] thought they best fit my style of play," he said. "The way they play, very unselfish, is similar to the way we played at Gonzaga. … We didn't care about all of the individual stuff. All we wanted to do was win and I think you see that here with the Jazz."
In a league loaded with high-caliber guards, Williams-Goss wants to find a way to set himself apart and, eventually, thrive. But he knows it will take time.
"I am just excited to get the opportunity to show what I can do and I have full confidence in my capabilities but right now I'm just enjoying this process," he said. "I'm here where I wanted to be."