Donovan Williams had a wide-open lane to the basket in his AAU game this past weekend in Arkansas, and when the Husker commit and Lincoln North Star standout landed after making the dunk, he instantly grabbed for the back of his left knee.
"I knew I hurt something, and that's when I thought it was the ACL," Williams told the Journal Star on Thursday. "The test the doctors did then, it didn't seem to hurt and they said my ACL seemed strong, so I canceled that out."
Williams, a 6-5 guard, found out earlier Thursday he did, in fact, tear the ACL in his left knee and will require surgery April 30. Williams said he will likely be on a seven-month recovery program with the hopes of being ready for his senior season at North Star.
"It's really hard right now; it's the most I have cried in awhile, thinking about the whole situation, how it happened," he said. "I have always been the type to fight through things and not let anything hold me back.
"This summer was going to be big for me, but with family and friends behind me, I'll hang in there."
The future Husker said he talked with new Nebraska coach Fred Hoiberg moments after learning the diagnosis.
"He is still on board with me and he still has faith in me," Williams said. "We are meeting tomorrow and that's more to do with school, but they know what I can be."
As for having a coach who still believes in him despite the injury, "that feels really good, especially with today and these last couple of days, hardest day of my life hearing that news."
During his junior season, Williams averaged 21 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game while leading the Navigators to the Class A semifinals.
Williams had 30 or more points three times — 32 against Norfolk in early January, 36 in the overtime loss to Creighton Prep in late January and 30 in the district final victory over Kearney, a game in which he hit the game-winning three-pointer from the left wing with just over two seconds left.
Creighton Prep | 6-6 | Sr.
What he did: The returning first-team Super-Stater was the focal point of the 2018 Class A state championship team, but Arop was the only returning starter from that squad after Jaylin Hunter moved to Connecticut after his father took an assistant coaching position on the Huskies’ staff. The Nebraska Gatorade Player of the Year was not only the Junior Jays’ physical leader this season, but also the vocal leader, responsibilities coach Josh Luedtke thought his star handled very well. Arop, who committed to the Huskers last summer, averaged 19.4 points and 10.9 rebounds per game to go with 2.6 blocked shots as he utilized his quickness, length and explosive jumping ability in all three areas. While Arop exhibited some perimeter skills last summer with his Omaha Sports Academy 17-and-under AAU team, his role for Prep this season was to score down low and drive to the basket from the perimeter to open up the Junior Jays’ array of three-point shooters, and as a result, shot 62 percent from the field. He lit up Omaha Benson for 35 points in late December and had 30 in the overtime win at Lincoln North Star in late January, a decision that the Navigators reversed in the first round of the Class A state tournament.
Coach-speak: “Akol works very hard in practice, and when your best player gives that much effort, it sets a great example for everyone else on the team. He was always very positive toward his teammates, but also demanding. Akol is the most efficient player I’ve ever coached. He could’ve averaged 25 or 30 points a game and he had opportunities to force things, but he never did. He’s a very unselfish player who wanted to see us win as a team.” — Creighton Prep coach Josh Luedtke
Lincoln North Star | 6-5 | Jr.
What he did: North Star’s late season surge that propelled the Navigators into the Class A state tournament semifinals was largely fueled by Williams’ well-rounded game getting his teammates more involved offensively, which in turn made the Husker commit more efficient and just as productive with fewer shot attempts. Williams, who committed to Nebraska last summer, has the ballhandling and passing skills of a point guard with the scoring ability from both outside and on the drive of a shooting guard or small forward. Williams averaged 21 points, 5.2 rebounds and 2.7 assists per game and was a 74 percent free-throw shooter after drawing 216 foul shot attempts for the season. Williams had 30 or more points three times — 32 against Norfolk in early January, 36 in the overtime loss to Creighton Prep in late January and 30 in the district final victory over Kearney, a game in which he hit the game-winning three-pointer from the left wing with just over two seconds left. Williams is one of three starters back next season for North Star, which should be among the Class A state contenders.
Coach-speak: “Donovan felt a lot of pressure early in the season thinking he had to do it all himself. He’s a very smart player, and he wanted our team to win, so he started playing to get everyone involved. Knowing he didn’t have to do everything himself made him enjoy playing basketball even more. With his work ethic in the offseason to improve and his commitment to the weight room, it will be interesting to see where his game is a year from now.” - North Star coach Tony Quattrocchi
Bellevue West | 6-1 | So.
College: Uncommitted, being recruited by a number of Big Ten and Big 12 schools. Has a scholarship offer from Nebraska.
What he did: Hepburn was the point guard that ignited Bellevue West’s high-octane offense that made the Thunderbirds the No. 1-ranked team in Class A almost the entire season before ending up with a semifinal finish at the state tournament. Hepburn was Bellevue West’s leading scorer, averaging 18.3 points per game, but he also hauled in an average of 5.1 rebounds, dished out five assists and registered 3.4 steals per game. Hepburn can drive the lane as well as anyone in the state, and his vision of the court meant he would either find a wide-open teammate for a shot or finish himself, sometimes with an emphatic dunk. Hepburn shot 54 percent from inside the three-point arc and 77 percent from the free-throw line. His three-point shot is steadily improving, and he had a flair for the dramatic from beyond the arc as he provided the winning points in victories over a pair of state tournament teams — Kearney and Creighton Prep — with late-game threes. Five of the Thunderbirds’ top seven players will return, so with Hepburn leading the way, Bellevue West could be the team to beat next season.
Coach-speak: “I can’t think of a player in the state who could impact a game in a myriad of ways like Chucky could. He’s more about the team than he is about Chucky. There’s not many guys like that ... and that’s what makes him unique. He’s hungry and he’s willing to put in the hard work to get better. As he gets bigger and stronger and he continues to refine his skill set, I don’t think there’s a level (of basketball) that’s too high for him.” — Bellevue West coach Doug Woodard
Lincoln Pius X | 6-2 | Sr.
What he did: Easley filled the stat sheet and led the Thunderbolts to the Class B state championship in the process by averaging 23.3 points, 6.1 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 3.1 steals per game, all team highs. He was not only productive, Easley was also a model of efficiency in his multi-leveled offensive game that was equally lethal driving to the basket for layups, knocking down midrange jump shots and bombing in three-pointers. He shot 51 percent from the field overall, 45 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 86 percent from the free-throw line. The all-time leading scorer in Pius X boys basketball history (1,412 career points) was at his best in the big games. He dropped 28 points on Lincoln East in an overtime win for the Bolts, cut loose for 33 in the win over Kearney in the Heartland Athletic Conference finals, scored 29 in a loss to 2018 Class A state champion Creighton Prep, had a pair of 35-point performances in two wins over Elkhorn and registered 25 in his final high school game, the double-overtime win over Omaha Roncalli in the state finals.
Coach-speak: “Charlie had a good feel for when it was time to get his teammates involved and when it was time for him to take the game over himself. He had trust in his teammates that they could deliver and his teammates trusted him that when adversity hit, Charlie would be there to make a play. Charlie is tough as nails, and that attitude just permeated through the rest of the team in practices and games.” — Pius X coach Brian Spicka
Omaha Central | 6-5 | Sr.
College: Colorado State
What he did: Central coach Eric Behrens said Tonje had as good a season as anyone he’s coached, high praise considering the talent Behrens has had at Central through the years and the seven state titles the Eagles have won under his guidance. Tonje led Class A in scoring (23.8 points per game) and grabbed 6.1 rebounds per game in leading the Eagles to the state final two weeks ago. He had 15 games in which he scored 25 or more points, including a pair of 35-point explosions in two wins over Lincoln High and a pair of 29-point games against Millard North. After seeing limited varsity minutes as a sophomore, Tonje averaged 13.6 points per game as a junior primarily as a spot-up three-point shooter. He added the dribble drive to his game as a senior and a couple of extra inches of height as well to help finish in traffic. Tonje slammed more than 30 dunks this season as he shot 50 percent from the field overall, 38 percent from three-point and 82 percent from the free-throw line.
Coach-speak: “John was one of the leaders in the state this season in both free-throw attempts and three-pointers. That’s a pretty good combination to have. When you look at John statistically, he put us on his back and carried us when Latrell (Wrightsell Jr.) was injured. John kept playing at that high level when we got him (Wrightsell) back, and that’s when we made our run in January and February.” — Omaha Central coach Eric Behrens