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Alamance County’s connection to the Final Four: Drew Williamson, Cummings star now an asst. coach at Florida Atlantic

By Bob Sutton

Special to The Alamance News

Drew Williamson left Cummings High School as one of the most decorated high school athletes in Alamance County history.

Now in a coaching role, he’ll have a front-row seat at the Final Four as an assistant coach for Florida Atlantic University.

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Drew Williamson

“It has been so unbelievable,” Williamson said Tuesday. “The support has been great and everything involved with this. But to know what we’re ready to go do Saturday, just the magnitude. We’ll have a chance to hopefully be a national champion.”

Williamson is in his second season with the Owls, who’ve had a surprising, Cinderalla-like run during the NCAA Tournament. The past few days, he has thought about his roots and his good fortune.

“Coming from Burlington, there’s a lot of people pulling for me and pulling for FAU,” Williamson said.

Many from his hometown already have been on board.

“It’s crazy right now,” said Bo Williamson, the coach’s younger brother. “Everyone is really invested from the community and reaching out to us.”

Bo Williamson had just returned from New York, where he watched another couple of chapters of Florida Atlantic’s storybook season unfold in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight.

Next stop is Houston for the Final Four. And there will be quite a contingent from Burlington.

The coach’s parents, Vera and Ron Williamson, are making the trip along with Bo Williamson, his wife, Angela, and two children and other friends.

FINAL FOUR BOUND. Madison Square Garden was a family affair with relatives coming to the Big Apple to support Drew Williamson and his team, Florida Atlantic University.

All this is rewarding for a family that had a big role during some of the glory days of Cummings athletics.

“How proud am I of him. I guess I was hoping it was going to be him as a player (in the Final Four). We had talked about that at some point the ball is going to stop bouncing, and coaching might be a thing for him. Now we’re living through him.

“Drew is a natural-born leader anyway. It might not be long before he has his own team [as a head coach].” – George Robinson, former Cummings coach and now athletics director for the Alamance-Burlington School System

“How proud am I of him,” said George Robinson, who coached Drew Williamson in basketball at Cummings. “I guess I was hoping it was going to be him as a player (in the Final Four). We had talked about that at some point the ball is going to stop bouncing, and coaching might be a thing for him. Now we’re living through him.”

Robinson, who’s now the athletics director for the Alamance Burlington School System, said this could be just a step in Williamson’s coaching career.

“Drew is a natural-born leader anyway,” Robinson said. “It might not be long before he has his own team.”

Williamson, 38, was on two of Robinson’s state championship teams and also a standout quarterback for the Cavaliers on the football field, where he was a key part of a state championship team and a runner-up squad. He was a conference Player of the Year in both sports.

“I hope he can get another championship ring and bring it back to Cummings High School and show it,” Robinson said.

Florida Atlantic takes on San Diego State in Saturday night’s first Final Four semifinal in Houston. Connecticut faces Miami in the nightcap. The national championship game is Monday night.

“I’ve talked to a lot of mentors this week and really the last couple of weeks. They’ve told me to really, really embrace this. Some coaches are in this 30, 40 years and never have this. I’m just lucky and blessed to be in the situation I’ve been in.” – Cummings alum and Florida Atlantic University assistant coach Drew Williamson

Florida Atlantic had never won a game in the NCAA Tournament prior to this season. The Owls knocked off Memphis, Fairleigh Dickinson, Tennessee and Kansas State to reach the Final Four.

While there’s more to do, Drew Williamson said it’s important to soak it in.

“I’ve talked to a lot of mentors this week and really the last couple of weeks,” he said.

“They’ve told me to really, really embrace this. Some coaches are in this 30, 40 years and never have this. I’m just lucky and blessed to be in the situation I’ve been in.”

Brother Bo has been there along the way. He and Jauron Holman, a former Cummings athlete and football coach, attended the first and second rounds in Columbus, Ohio. Bo and wife Angela made the trip to Madison Square Garden last week – and Mom Vera Williamson joined them for the Elite Eight game.

PROUD MOMMA – Vera Williamson hugs son/asst. coach Drew Williamson after the Elite Eight game that saw Florida Atlantic advance to the Final Four.

“It’s like the chips have been falling their way,” Bo Williamson said. “It’s kind of the story of what’s happening with them all year.”

Bo Williamson, a staff member and boys’ basketball coach at Turrentine Middle School, said he saw a little emotion from his older brother during the weekend, but he said the Owls tend to be on a mission. “They’re not allowing this to overwhelm them,” he said.

For Drew Williamson, having his wife, Lauren, son Jaden and daughter Avery along has been rewarding. Jaden got to shoot at Madison Square Garden during a team workout.

“To have them experience this with me has been unbelievable,” he said. “My son is just eating this up.”

Bo Williamson will be attending a Final Four for the first time, though he has witnessed monumental NCAA Tournament upsets. He said the first NCAA Tournament he attended came

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when Lehigh knocked off Duke in 2012 at the Greensboro Coliseum. Then he was on hand March 17 in Columbus when Fairleigh Dickinson stunned top-seeded Purdue as part of the doubleheader session that also included the Florida Atlantic-Memphis game.

More recently, he joined his brother on the Madison Square Garden court as part of Florida Atlantic’s postgame celebration Saturday night.

“As soon as the game is over, I look and my brother is on the court,” Drew Williamson said.

“Next thing I know, he was next to me.”

 

Williamson was a stand-out at Cummings in both basketball and football
Drew Williamson was named the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s Male Athlete of the Year in 2003. He scored more than 2,000 points for Cummings and was selected as the Most Valuable Player of the 2002 Class 2-A championship game as a junior.

In football, his 116 career touchdown passes ranked second in state history when he graduated.

A point guard, he made a mark as a college player for Old Dominion from 2003-07, appearing in a program-record 130 games. He played on two NCAA Tournament teams with Old Dominion and a National Invitation Tournament team that reached the semifinals.

After an overseas professional career that included time in Germany, he embarked on a coaching route. He spent two seasons as Old Dominion’s director of basketball operations and eight years on the coaching staff at Division II Virginia State.

College coaches and assistants frequently attend Final Fours and the coaching convention associated with the event, so Drew Williamson has been to Houston in a different role when the 2016 Final Four was held there.

“This is for sure the biggest stage I’ve been on,” he said. “It’s another game with more on the line. You try to keep it as normal as possible. We’re preparing for it like we would the first game of the season.”

Last September, he booked flights for his wife and children to accompany him this week to Houston. It turns out he’ll use those tickets some other time because the family is part of the Florida Atlantic entourage.

While Williamson family members from Burlington made a trip in early February to see Drew when the Owls played a Conference USA game at Charlotte, this week in Houston is bound to be an entirely different experience.

Back home, others will be tuned in.

“I think we’re all Owls fans, at least for a week or so,” Robinson said.

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