Ron "Fritz" Williams
Written by John Antonik
Ron "Fritz" Williams joined Hot Rod Hundley, Jerry West and Rod Thorn in a string of great guards to play at West Virginia University from the mid-1950s to the late 1960s.
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A native of Weirton, Williams, born September 24, 1944, was one of the Ohio Valley's most prolific high school athletes in the early 1960s. Earning 11 varsity letters at Weirton High, Williams drew equal interest from college recruiters in basketball and football.
He led Weir to three straight Class 3A state title games and the championship in 1963 when he averaged 30.1 points per game. He was the first African-American player named to West Virginia's all-state team and only the fourth player in state history to make the team three times.
Of the final three schools Williams considered - Michigan, Ohio State and West Virginia - WVU was the only basketball program not integrated. But West Virginia coach George King and athletic director Red Brown convinced Williams that there would be no problems in Morgantown and he decided to remain in-state, joining Weir High teammate Ed Harvard, Norman Holmes and Jim Lewis as the first African-American basketball players at WVU in 1965.
Junior college transfer Carl Head was added to those four in 1966 to make up West Virginia's first integrated varsity basketball team, coached that season by Bucky Waters.
Williams played in 84 varsity games from 1965-68, scoring 1,687 points, handing out 504 assists and shooting 44 percent from the field. "Fritz," his nickname since high school, scored 20 or more points in a game 46 times during his career, including a career high 38 points against Wisconsin in the Milwaukee Classic during his sophomore season. Fritz's shooting improved considerably during his junior year when he finally began wearing contact lenses; before that he had to rely on his teammates to tell him the time and score on the game clock because his eyesight was so poor.
Williams led West Virginia to a Southern Conference championship in 1967 where his 15 assists in the Mountaineers' 81-65 win over Davidson set a tournament record. West Virginia lost to Princeton in an NCAA tournament first round game in Blacksburg, Va.; his senior year in 1968 the Mountaineers were invited to the NIT where they lost in the first round to Dayton.
Williams averaged 20.4 points per game as a senior and 20.1 points per game for his career.
After his senior season, he was selected along with 29 other college players for the U.S. Olympic tryouts, an invitation he declined. The first guard drafted (ninth player overall selected) in the 1968 NBA draft by the San Francisco Warriors, Williams was also picked in the 14th round of the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys even though he didn't play football in college. Williams went to mini-camp and was was offered a guaranteed three-year contract, but he turned it down and decided to stick with basketball.
During his rookie campaign with the Warriors in 1968-69, the guard averaged 7.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and 3.3 assists per game. In his second season, he became a backcourt starter alongside Jeff Mullins and averaged a career-best 14.8 points per game. Again averaging better than 14 points per game in 1970-71, Williams scored a career-high 36 points against Detroit on January 27, 1971.
Williams consistently ranked among the NBA's top free throw shooters in the early 1970s, but he missed three free throws in the last game of the 1970-71 season to lose the NBA free throw title to Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson.
Williams played two more seasons with the Warriors before being traded to the Milwaukee Bucks before the 1973-74 season. Williams was the first guard off the bench for a Milwaukee team that reached the NBA finals where the Bucks lost a seven-game series to the Boston Celtics.
Williams played another season with Milwaukee in 1975 before completing his career with the Los Angeles Lakers in 1976.
For several years, West Virginia coaches would frequently call on Williams to help them recruit African-American players to WVU, among the most notable being Wil Robinson, Curt Price and Levi Phillips.
"Fritz Williams was one of the main reasons I went to West Virginia," said Wil Robinson. "He showed me around and told me the people here would take care of me - and they did."
After retiring from basketball, Williams was a basketball coach at various levels, including stints with California and Iona in the mid-1980s. Williams is also a member of the West Virginia, Upper Ohio Valley and Ohio Valley Athletic Conference (OVAC) halls of fame.
He died April 8, 2004.
The road near his childhood home in Weirton has been renamed Ron "Fritz" Williams Boulevard.