Tonight, Nigel Williams-Goss will be on the floor as Gonzaga faces North Carolina in the national championship game. After spending two seasons at Washington and then transferring, the 22-year-old point guard leads the Bulldogs at 16.9 points per game.
Williams-Goss has scored 23 points in each of his last two games. He’s fifth in KenPom.com’s national player of the year rankings. And he very nearly found himself suiting up for Ohio State this season.
According to Yahoo! Sports writer Jeff Eisenberg, who is covering the Final Four, Williams-Goss nearly became a Buckeye. After deciding to leave Washington, Williams-Goss was nearly set to commit to Ohio State until Gonzaga persuaded him to take an official visit. He committed while he was there, before he took an official visit to see the Buckeyes.
Tidbit from Nigel Williams-Goss' dad that didn't make my story: If Gonzaga doesn't persuade him to visit, Ohio State was likely his choice.— Jeff Eisenberg (@JeffEisenberg) March 29, 2017
The rest, of course, is history. Tonight Williams-Goss will play for a championship, so things have clearly worked out well for him. But in an alternate universe where he had committed to the Buckeyes instead, what kind of impact would he have made?
Williams-Goss committed to Gonzaga on May 3, 2015. Nine days earlier, Ohio State had signed JaQuan Lyle as the final member of a five-man recruiting class.
Adding the Oregon native to the mix would not have impacted that group. But with an athletic playmaker like Williams-Goss going through practice during his redshirt year, Ohio State would have had an All-America type of player suiting up against a team that wasn’t consistent enough to reach the NCAA Tournament.
Does his influence rub off on some of the younger members of that roster? When Williams-Goss signed with Gonzaga, coach Mark Few said, “He’s a very driven, team-oriented guy and is excited to be a part of this program. He’s also been great in the classroom as an Academic All-American, which fits in with our history of academic success.”
Then, after sitting out a season, Williams-Goss would have been on the court this season, when the Buckeyes slumped to 17-15 overall and missed the postseason entirely.
Ohio State had two available scholarships for the 2016-17 season and one for the 2015-16 season, so his addition would not have forced anyone out – even if one of the four players to transfer out of the program had remained. But, his presence almost certainly would have meant that the Buckeyes would not have dipped into the junior college market to sign C.J. Jackson.
Jackson settled in as the season went on and eventually supplanted Lyle in the starting lineup. He averaged 5.6 points and 2.9 assists while averaging 19.1 minutes per game.
Would Williams-Goss have put up the same numbers with Ohio State as he did with Gonzaga this season? Even if he hadn’t, it would be hard to argue that he wouldn’t have been the most talented player on the roster. Placing him into a starting lineup with Lyle, Jae’Sean Tate, a healthy Keita Bates-Diop (this is a best-case scenario) and Trevor Thompson with Marc Loving, Kam Williams, Andre Wesson and Micah Potter all coming off the bench would have almost certainly produced a few more wins.
Then, next season, Williams-Goss would’ve been a veteran, battle-tested senior who would be leading a team likely coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. Presuming, of course, that he didn’t head for the NBA.
But as they say in recruiting, if you’re not first you’re last.
. . .