CORLISS WILLIAMSON: TITLE TAKER
by Craig Woodson
When Razorback basketball fans recall some of the greatest players in school history, most will mention a man by the name of Corliss Williamson.
Williamson was born and raised in Russellville, Arkansas in December of 1973, and always had a love for basketball. "I played basketball growing up, along with baseball, football, and soccer," he said, "but as I grew older my coordination got better and my skills (in basketball) started developing."
At the age of thirteen, while playing AAU basketball, Corliss got a unique nickname that would stick with him well into his professional career: Big Nasty. "My coach always called me that," he said, "I guess that's how he wanted me to play on the court. My teammates picked up on it and then Dick Vitale brought it up on ESPN and that was it. I've been known as "Big Nasty" ever since."
In high school, Corliss was given multiple acknowledgements, including being named a three-time all-conference and all-state, and was even made the Gatorade National Player of the year in 91 and 92.
During his senior year at Russellville High, Corliss led his team to the King Cotton Tournament championship game, where Russellville deafeated a team led by Jason Kidd. The game ended with Williamson blocking a potential game winning shot by Kidd. Even though Corliss was named the tournament's most valuable player, he gave Kidd his medal at the podium.
When it came time for Williamson to choose a college, he didn't hesitate too much to decide where he wanted to go. "In junior high I was a big Georgetown fan," he said, "but then coach (Nolan) Richardson got hired and I liked the style of play that he brought to Arkansas and I decided I wanted to be a Hog from that point on."
The impact he would have on the Razorback program would be almost instant. He was named to the 1993 SEC All Freshman team, and was a First Team All SEC member from 93-95. Nolan Richardson's Hogs, with the help of young Corliss Williamson, immediately began a journey that would stand as the highest achievement in the program's history.
During his freshman year, Corliss helped lead the Hogs to a 22-9 record and propelled them into a Sweet 16 appearance in the 93 NCAA Tournament. Even though the Hogs would lose in that game to the North Carolina Tarheels, Williamson felt that the team had a real opportunity to do something special in the world of college basketball. "I remember making the comment to somebody that if we had a seven footer, we could win the national championship," he said. "And the very next year, to watch our team progress and come together, really was a dream season."
The dream quickly became a reality as the "Big Nasty" would lead his team to a 31-3 record in 94, and the program's first and only National Championship over the Duke Blue Devils. "You couldn't ask for a better script," he said. "Being a kid from Arkansas, playing for the Hogs, and winning a National Title."
Williamson was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 94 NCAA Tournament, and was even featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine.
Carrying the momentum of winning a national title, Williamson decided to push aside the thought of declaring for the NBA draft to pursue back to back rings. "Before I started my sophomore year," he said, "I thought about declaring for the NBA draft, but decided to come back. I'm glad I did, because we won the National Championship that year. At that point, I decided to come back for my Junior year because I really thought we had a shot at winning a back to back title, something that not many players get to do."
So, with the dream of winning consecutive championships in plain sight, Williamson and the Hogs furiously fought their way back to the top of the college ranks and reached the 1995 NCAA National Championship game for the second time in two years.
Unfortunately, the Hogs would be defeated in the title game by UCLA and would end the season with a stellar record of 32-7.
With the hopes of winning back to back titles gone, Corliss decided to put his name in the NBA draft. "After we lost," he said, "I decided that I had done all I could do and that it was time for me to go on into the NBA."
Corliss was selected as a lottery pick (13th overall) by the Sacramento Kings in the first round in 1995, but didn't see action right away due to having just undergone back surgery, "I didn't have what you would call a textbook year," he said. "Having surgery really did hold me back."
After some time recovering, and warming up as a bench player for a few years, Corliss had his best year during the 97-98 season, where he averaged 17.7 points per game for the Kings, and finished second as the NBA's Most Improved Player.
During the 01-02 season (with the Detroit Pistons), Williamson was named the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year, awarded to the player that most impacts his team off the bench.
In 2004, Williamson joined an elite company and helped the Pistons in becoming NBA Champions. In winning an NBA title, Corliss is one of the very few players to ever win National Championships at three different levels: AAU, NCAA (with Arkansas), and NBA (with Detroit). "Anytime you're around a winning program or winning people, it rubs off on you," he said. "You learn the things it takes to win."
The demands of an 82 game season can take its toll, physically and on the family. "It's rough," he said. "Especially when you talk to your kids and they're asking where you're at and when you're coming home. They were crawling when you left and when you come back they are walking!"
It was for those reasons that in September of 2007, the "Big Nasty" announced that he was retiring from the NBA to spend time with his family and begin coaching. "It's an opportunity to get to spend more time with them," he says. "I now realize how much time I missed with my oldest son, and I want to spend that time with my younger children."
Looking back on his career in the NBA, Corliss made a lot of lasting friendships along the way, especially with the Pistons. Not just because we won a world championship," he says. "We had a great group of guys, and off the court we were really tight. Our families would hang out together. That was probably the most enjoyable season that I had."
But no relationship from the NBA could be closer than the relationship with his Razorback teammates. "It's a lot different," he says. "In college you do everything together, you're in the same dorms, same classes, you eat together, you do everything together as a team."
Today, you can find Corliss as an Assistant Coach at Arkansas Baptist College in Little Rock. "I love it (coaching)," he says. "I get the chance to work with these young guys and share my experiences with them. Being able to help them on the court is very rewarding."
The future for the "Big Nasty" is wide open. "I'm definitely committed to Arkansas Baptist College and this team," he says. "But I guess my ultimate dream would be to become a Division One head coach somewhere here in Arkansas."
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