BOISE, Idaho — Kam Williams hasn’t wanted to make a great scene before every Ohio State game this season. At the same time, the fifth-year senior thought he couldn’t turn a blind eye to the racial inequality he has seen in the United States.
It’s why before every game, Williams has blended in and stood in a line alongside his teammates for the playing of the national anthem. And as he’s looked up at the flag, he’s made the conscious decision to hold his right hand in a closed fist over his heart.
“As I started thinking about it, everything that’s going on, obviously I don’t think we should be kneeling because without this country none of this would be possible,” he said from the Ohio State locker room at Taco Bell Arena. “It’s just a small little gesture that I do.
“We all saw everybody doing it (kneeling), but coaches asked us what you want to do for the anthem and we all said the same thing (as usual). Something subtle like that (making a fist) doesn’t really have an impact on anybody else.”
Williams said he’s dealt with issues of discrimination when he was younger but that nothing was too severe.
“A lot of people aren’t aware of some of the disadvantages that come with being a black male,” he said. “Being black in this era is definitely tough with everything going on. You’ve got Colin Kaepernick and everything he’s faced. Everybody’s speaking about reform and our president, so I felt like that was my way of speaking out.”
An under-the-radar issue helping to hold back the Buckeyes late in the season has been the inability of junior guard C.J. Jackson to avoid cramping up late in games. It forced him out of consecutive games in February and continued throughout the latter games as the schedule offered no letup.
Since closing the regular season Feb. 23 at Indiana, Ohio State has played just one game. It has given Jackson a chance to figure out the problem.
“My legs are back under me 100 percent,” he said today. “I can’t wait to play. There’s no issues with the cramping anymore. We dissected (the problem). I did bloodwork to see what I was lacking and I had to figure it out. I wanted to hydrate more, also get more rest in between games and practices and take care of my body a little bit more than I did in the past.”
Coach Chris Holtmann said the staff presented Jackson and his family with some medical options to deal with the problem but stopped short of saying Jackson has had to take medication.
“There’s some medication he can take, but I think for him we’ve really left it up to him and his family in a lot of ways to make the decisions they feel most comfortable with when it comes to cramping,” he said. “It’s not like he’s at risk by taking this or not taking this, it’s just OK, this might affect you in some way. Do you want to do that? We’ve left it up to him and his family with that.”
Ohio State has used the incentive of having been expected to achieve little this season to help propel itself into an NCAA Tournament appearance. That feeling of being the underdog and having something to prove hasn’t dissipated even as the wins piled up and the Buckeyes eventually earned a No. 5 seed in the West Regional.
In preparing to open tournament play, the Ohio State coaches have printed off cards featuring a growing number of pundits picking South Dakota State to score the first-round upset to remind the Buckeyes that they’re still not expected by many to do much.
“I don’t expect anything less,” senior forward Jae’Sean Tate said. “It happened at the beginning of the preseason when nobody expected us to do what we’re doing now, so going into it I kind of figured it was going to be like that. We’re a team that’s not supposed to be here and we’re not supposed to do anything. With that, our chip just got even bigger. We’re just going to go out and prove ourselves right.”
Added freshman center Kaleb Wesson, “We always play with a chip on our shoulder, but that adds a little fuel to the fire. We’re just going to go out there and play basketball like we always do.”