George Williams went from excellent as a sophomore, to tremendous as a junior, to best-in-the-country as a senior. His brilliance was such that we should probably be hanging a 1921 National Championship banner in Mizzou Arena.
In the first week of 1920, the big story on the nation’s sports pages was the New York Yankees’ purchase of Babe Ruth from the Boston Red Sox. In Columbia, it was the return of Doc Meanwell. Free from military duty, the Little Doctor hoped to take the team he saw dismantle Kansas State the previous March and turn it into champs. The pieces were in place. The game’s greatest coach was back at the helm, and Craig Ruby – Missouri’s greatest player, a two-time All-American – was back on the court. Phil Scott, Mizzou’s surest shot, and Pidge Browning, the Tigers’ most versatile player, were back, too. And though Deerfoot Vogt had been lost to graduation, a pivot player of even greater prowess arrived. George “Shorty” Williams, brother of All-American Fred Williams, immediately captured his coach’s imagination. “When I first saw him,” Meanwell said, “I knew that he would some day be the Van Gent of the Missouri Valley.” High praise indeed, but in retrospect, comparisons between Williams and the Wisconsin star flatter Van Gent. […]
By the time they arrived in Lawrence, the Tigers stood 14-0, on the verge of clinching the Missouri Valley championship. Fans packed Robinson Gymnasium to root on the Jayhawks, but Williams silenced them almost immediately. After Kansas took a 4-1 lead, Shorty caught fire, scoring from all over the court in a 33-17 victory. He was even more magnificent the next night as the Tigers all but locked up the championship. Williams, on his way to 25 points, broke the game open in the second half. Missouri cruised to a 41-30 triumph as Phog Allen fell to 0-8 against MU in his second stint as Kansas coach. […]
[T]he size of the achievement was something to behold. The Tigers had won another title, this one for a rookie coach. Pidge Browning, Herb Bunker and George Williams comprised three-fifths of the All-Valley team, with Bunker and Williams also earning All-America honors. And Williams, in addition to winning the MVC scoring title at 17.3 points per game, was named national player of the year – the only Tiger ever so honored. Mizzou even displayed some hubris at season’s end by challenging Penn, the east’s foremost power, to a three-game series to determine the nation’s top team. Penn declined the challenge, and years later, historian Patrick Premo helped seal the Tigers’ place in history by declaring them the nation’s number one team for 1921, with Penn at number two (the Helms Foundation of Los Angeles would choose Penn as its mythical national champion). By the end of the 1921 season, the Tigers had emerged as college basketball’s greatest power.
George Williams, the big center ironically nicknamed “Shorty,” remains the only player in Missouri history to be named national player of the year, an award bestowed on him by the Helms Foundation for his play in the 1920-21 season. Williams, who also collected All-America honors for 1919-20, starred for conference champions in both of his years on the varsity as the Tigers posted a cumulative 34-2 record. Regarded as the finest center in the early years of the Missouri Valley, Williams led the conference in scoring in 1921 at 17.2 points per game. The 311 points he tallied that year stood as a Missouri single-season record for over 30 years. After leaving Mizzou, Williams led two different teams to AAU national championships, and earned places on three AAU All-Tournament teams. Truly one of the era’s great players.