There are many great college basketball players around the country. Pendarvis Williams is certainly one of them. Williams, a former William Bodine High School for International Affairs standout, is a huge star for Norfolk State’s basketball team.
Williams, a 6-foot-6, 195-pound junior, has been named the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year. He averaged 14.1 points and 4.6 rebounds to lead the defending MEAC champion Spartans to an undefeated 16-0 mark in conference play and 21-10 record overall. He was also named first-team All-MEAC.
After losing four starters from last year’s NCAA tournament team, including Kyle O’Quinn from the NBA’s Orlando Magic, the Spartans got a big season from Williams. He is shooting 81.9 percent from the free throw line, 45.7 percent from the field and 39.9 from three-point range. Anthony Evans, Norfolk State head coach, who was named the MEAC Coach of the Year, has watched Williams improve his game over the years.
“Last year he played the point, but Kyle O’Quinn was the feature guy and then Chris McEachin was the next guy,” Evans said. “Penny [Williams] got his shots based on the defense focusing on them. This year he was our best returning player and teams were focusing on him. He had to get used to that attention. He’s worked on his game. He watches film. He’s one of the top players in our league as well as one of the best in the country.”
The Spartans became the first team to post an undefeated record in conference play since Coppin State in 1993-94 under head coach Ron “Fang” Mitchell. Norfolk State is guaranteed a bid to the NIT with its regular season championship. There’s a lot of excitement around the Spartans.
Last year, they sent shock waves through the NCAA tournament as the No. 15 seed upsetting the No. 2 seed Missouri,86-84 in the first round of the tournament. Williams put on quite a show in that big victory. He had 20 points, shooting 7-for-9 from the field and 4-for-4 from three-point range, and grabbing four rebounds. He had a good taste of national publicity. The experience really helped him this season.
“That win put Norfolk State on the map,” Williams said. “When you think about it, it made us known worldwide. We were up for an ESPY award. It’s been a great season this year. We lost four starters. I was one of the most experienced players. I know my coaches and teammates believe in me and depend on me to step up. And that’s exactly what I’ve been trying to do.”
Williams played some great basketball in the Public League during his career at Bodine. He also starred for the Hun School in New Jersey. Evans will never forget the recruiting trip to see Williams play.
“The year I recruited him we were trying to get some impact players around Kyle (O’Quinn),” Evans said. “I drove up in a snow storm to watch him play. It’s funny, when I watched him, I thought, ‘There’s no way this guy is a point guard.’ As soon as Penny started playing, I could see that he could do whatever he wanted to do.”
In spite of his talents, Williams didn’t receive a lot of Division I interest. He played against a number of college players from the Public and Catholic leagues. He also honed his skills in the Sonny Hill League during the summer months. Nevertheless, he wasn’t a household name at the time.
“We had a lot of great players like Tony Chennault (Neumann-Goretti, Villanova), Tyrone Garland (Bartram, La Salle), Khalif Wyatt (Norristown, Temple) and Scootie Randall (Communications Tech, Temple),” said Williams, who eclipsed the 1,000-point mark this season. “I felt like I could play anywhere. I just didn’t get a lot of exposure. But everything worked out for me anyway.
“When I went home over the summer, everybody was talking about our win in the NCAA tournament. I got so much love at home and around the city. It was great.”
The Spartans earned a bye and will open play in the MEAC tournament on Wednesday, March 13, in the quarterfinal round at the Scope Arena in Norfolk. Williams is looking forward to defending the conference championship not too far from the Spartans campus.
“We’re defending champions, and having it right in Norfolk should be great for the school and the fans,” Williams said. “Every day in practice we just come out and work hard. We know what it takes. We’ve done it before and we want to get back to the tournament.”