10 years later: Q&A with Victor Williams
BY JIMMIE TRAMEL World Sports Writer
Friday, January 21, 2011
1/21/11 at 6:10 PM
Questions and answers with former Oklahoma State basketball player Victor Williams regarding the 10-year anniversary of a plane crash which killed 10 members of OSU’s travel party.
How difficult was it just to get through that season?
“It was by far the toughest year of my life to this day. There isn’t a day that really goes by that I don’t reflect on that day and reflect on that moment and that year that we had to go through. It really can’t be put into words how we made it through that year. It’s unbelievable.”
What specifically did the players on that team have to get past?
“I think the biggest thing that you had to get past is all the time that you took for granted. I think that’s the biggest thing when you lose someone that is like a family member or someone you respect is the time that you took for granted and time that you chose to do other things when you could have been spending it with those people and how much those guys really meant to you and meant to the whole organization. I think that’s something that was just hard to really deal with.”
Probably you guys bonded like few other teams in OSU history?
“That team, in my whole time there, just my whole tenure there, it was a big family. We did everything together, whether it was going to eat or playing cards or going to somebody’s apartment. Whatever it was, we did it together and I think that’s what really made it a lot harder.”
You guys were like that before and after the crash?
“Before and after. Of course going through something like that sort of brings you together and puts a huge perspective on life so it automatically brings you together and a little bit closer. Our teams when I was there were always very, very close.”
Was it hard to get fired up to play games that season or were basketball games your release?
“If you look back on those guys that we lost, all those guys were just basketball junkies. I remember those guys always stayed in the gym and they always wanted to be in the gym and any time they had an opportunity they just worked their butts off in whatever they did. It was kind of like our safe haven to get out there on the court and it was kind of one of those things where you just wanted to play hard for those guys. It was definitely hard just waking up and doing day-to-day things knowing those guys weren’t going to be there. But getting on the basketball court is something they would have liked for us to do, so that was kind of an easier time for us, I think, because we knew those guys would have wanted us to do that.”
Who kept players on that team from getting their heads down?
“I credit that to coach (Eddie) Sutton all the way, man. Coach Sutton was great. He is one of those guys that, still to this day. ... I just think back to how coach Sutton was in that moment. He was a true leader. Everybody around the country was asking questions and had concerns, but he was a soldier amongst soldiers in that deal. To this day, when I get a sour taste in my mouth or I’m feeling like everybody is coming down on me or things are not going the way I wanted, I think about how tough he was in that moment and how he taught us how to deal with things.”
It couldn’t have been easy for him because he had to inform family members about what happened to the 10?
“Exactly. Like I said before, coach Sutton, there are very few people who can deal with that. God is a special God and he never puts more on you that you can bear. He knew in His heart that if somebody had to deal with it, coach Sutton could deal with it because you could put that on him and coach Sutton was great at it.”
Counselors were available for you guys after the crash, but the tendency among men is to think that they don’t need help because they can handle tough situations themselves. Do you think players actually went to counselors?
“I don’t think a lot of guys went that route. Counselors are great, but we were so close and coach Sutton was a father figure to all of us and he was a guy that we really counted on in that area. As far as needing an extra boost or needing an extra bit of movitation, we looked to coach for that and we looked to each other. We were a really, really close-knit team and we looked to each other and coach was the leader and we looked to him to help us out.”
The season ended with a lopsided loss to USC in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Was USC just that much better or were you guys just out of gas emotionally?
“Giving credit to USC, they were a really good team. I think they had a bunch of older guys on their team and we were pretty young that year, so I don’t want to take anything away from USC that year. They were a very good team, but, with that said, that was a very emotional time for each and every last one of us. That was the hardest year, I guarantee you, for everybody that was part of the team and part of the organization. That was the toughest year of our life. Emotionally, we are not going to be at our best. But I don’t want to take any credit away from USC because they were a good team.”
Other OSU teams won more games and advanced deeper in the NCAA Tournament. But what your team accomplished after the plane crash should rank among the more special achievements in school history.
“Definitely. I think you’ve got to look back on that experience and the things that team had to go through and how we had to overcome a lot of adversity at the very worst. People use adversity as kind of a cliche that you’ve got to get through adversity and deal with adversity. But that team really had to deal with adversity in the worst kind of way, losing a loved one and losing 10 guys that were very special in your heart and you went to battle with them each and every day. And all of a sudden, they are not there anymore.
“So when you speak about adversity and you speak about teams that have to deal with a lot of adversity and have to overcome a lot, you have to think of that team and say that nobody in the history of OSU basketball had to deal with that type of adversity and continue throughout the year. I don’t care how many wins or what player or what accomplishments they had or anything they can say they have done, nobody else in Oklahoma State history had to deal with that adversity. Nobody.”
Looking back, are you proud of that team or is that the wrong word?
“I wouldn’t say proud. I was proud of that team, but it was kind of expected of us. We were that close of guys and we had a leader in coach Sutton and God put that burden on us. It would have surprised me to be honest with you if we didn’t get through it. People didn’t expect us to do it, but we expected it of ourselves and those 10 guys that left us definitely pushed us through it.”
Were there times that season when guys in the locker room would just break down?
“Yeah. There were moments in the season where you would be in the locker room or we would be hanging out. Like I said, a lot of people use family and brotherhood and those are things a lot of teams use, but it’s few and far between when you’ve got a team that is really together and supports each other. We did everything together. So it was really a tough emotional time for a lot of the players. We would cry together and we would hug each other.”
Are you still close with most of those players today?
“To this day we are a very tight-knit group and I can guarantee you this: You can ask each and every one of those guys that was on that team if they go months or weeks without talking to people on that team and they will probably tell you no. I still keep in touch with every last one of the guys on the team and we always get together every year and do some things.”
Some of your teammates had nightmares after the crash. Did you?
“I wasn’t really bothered by nightmares and things that kind of affected me in day-to-day thinking. It was more or less just regret. I had to deal with regret and deal with things that I didn’t do that that I wish I did. Those were things that I had to deal with more than anything.”
What’s your favorite story about one of the 10?
“Nate Fleming was a walk-on and each and every practice he worked as hard as anybody. I remember our first game that year he came out of the locker room and, every team I have played on, I have always led the guys out on the floor. I look up and I see Nate at the front of the line. I say, ‘Hey, Nate, I am leading the guys out.’ And he said, ‘This is your first year playing and this is my second year, so you are going to have to get behind me.’ That just lets you know how he feels and how he thinks. He was a man amongst men and he was a leader amongst leaders and I will never forget that. From that game on, Nate always led us out on the floor and that was something I learned to deal with because it was my first year and he was a part of the team the year before. It was just one of those things where you learn a lot about people in that moment.”