Xavier Garcia invited Brian Williams to get shots up together this offseason, and it led to more than that.
Garcia was transferring from St. Croix Lutheran to Humboldt, where his dad is an assistant coach. Williams was Humboldt’s top returning player. When the two would get together they’d talk about basketball, about life, about their expectations for the coming season.
“Two-friend duo bonding,” Williams said.
They’re now the two best players on a Hawks team that’s turning the St. Paul City Conference on its head. Humboldt entered Wednesday’s game against Highland Park tied for the conference lead with Johnson with its 6-1 record.
The Hawks are guaranteed no worse than a .500 record — something they haven’t achieved since 1998.
“Results are just what I thought they’d be,” Garcia said.
Still, 23 years.
“I’m just glad we’re here today, making history,” Williams said. “Who knew that we’d be where we’re at right now? … That feels good. That feels really good.”
Humboldt coach Augie Garcia expected this team to be strong, as well. Only two players on the varsity team were with the squad last season. Xavier and his younger brother, Dominic, transferred in, and a number of others came out for the first time — key contributors including Michael McCampbell, Demure Larkins and Malik Alabi.
Augie Garcia cited a couple reasons for that, from Humboldt’s modest success last season, to its strong fall league results to the fact the Hawks have good leadership in Williams, Xavier Garcia and the team’s other captain, Keith Pabon.
“I think it kind of snowballed into the season,” Augie Garcia said.
That’s not to say there haven’t been bumps. Humboldt lost its first game of the season to Johnson in heartbreaking fashion. The Hawks were out for 10 days due to COVID-19 quarantine. But this program is used to bumps.
Williams has been a varsity player since his freshman year. There have been ups and downs — and plenty of losses. But Augie Garcia credits Williams — who comes off the bench — for accepting his role and continuously improving and growing as a player to help lead this team.
“It was challenges every day, every day, every day,” Williams said. “(Coach) was talking to me, I was picking it up. He was like, ‘You gotta do this, you’ve gotta do that,’ and I was like ‘Aight, Coach.’ And it was tough for me, but I’d come back, regenerate and do it again. But I feel like my game has totally changed since coming in here from ninth grade, coming from this man. He taught me the game. … I told him ‘Thank you, ‘ and I appreciate everything you did for me.”
Jajuan Durand, a talented Hawks freshman, recently said, “when I get to be a senior, I want to be like Xavier and Brian.”
“To hear someone say it, you don’t know what to say,” Xavier said. “It’s just like, ‘Wow.’”
“That’s something like a little kid would say to an NBA player,” Williams said. “It was a good moment when he said that, it felt warm inside. And I believed him when I said that, because the kid’s got potential.”
Humboldt is reaching the point where there is a standard to live up to. That the Hawks have already made program history this season left Williams “speechless.” He knows how many good players have come before him. But this season, the Hawks have two.
“It’s been great to have these two, it really has,” Augie Garcia said. “We’ve never had two key players that we could count on day in and day out for each game. … Now with a couple players, it’s a lot easier. It makes me look like a lot better coach.”
That’s not to say it’s just those two. Garcia noted the team won a game against Como Park this week in which his two star players combined to score “just” 27 points. Others have stepped up. But it starts at the top. Both Williams and Xavier Garcia scored their 1,000th points this season — a special achievement in its own right.
The team goals are lofty, too. Augie Garcia noted the Hawks want to win a conference crown — which would be the program’s first since 1978. Then there are playoff aspirations. Williams, who often sends his teammates paragraph-long, inspirational texts, noted “the work ain’t done.”
“We’re taking every game like it’s our last game. Our goal would be, yeah, to finish on top of the conference and get a chance in our section to play four games, and whatever happens, happens,” Augie Garcia said. “If we can make it there, that’s great. But if we can’t, these guys play from tip off to the last whistle, and that’s all you can ask for. We tell them every day to enjoy the moment. … Enjoy it. Enjoy it. Everyone here in the community, everyone here in the school is behind these guys.”