A long way from home

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SALEM, Va. -- Williams College guard James Wang laughed when asked to recount how he arrived in Williamstown.

"Do you want the one-minute story or the 30-minute story?" the sophomore point guard from Sydney, Australia asked.

Williams College head coach Mike Maker and the rest of the Ephs may not mind how long it takes Wang to retell how Wang went from Australia to Florida, Connecticut and then to Massachusetts. The Ephs are all just glad he's here.

"I think it's a nice Christmas present when you take a job and you have a player of his ability waiting for you," Williams coach Mike Maker said.

Wang has been simply outstanding in the postseason for the Ephs, who bring their 29-1 record into tonight's NCAA Division III national semifinal game against Guilford College of North Carolina.

In three tournament games -- wins over Maine-Farmington, SUNYIT and Brandeis, the 6-foot point guard has averaged 20.3 points per game, 3.7 rebounds and 4.3 assists. He was one of three Ephs to score 21 points in a 104-70 Sweet 16 victory over SUNYIT back on March 12.

Wang came to America to play college basketball and get a good college education. He started at Montverde Academy in Montverde, Fla., one of prep basketball's powers. He played with Gary Clark and L.D. Williams of NCAA Division I tournament team Wake Forest. Montverde is also the alma mater of former UCLA standout Luc Mbah a Moute.

"It was tough to shine down there, because in my senior year, we had nine out of 13 go Division I," Wang recalled.

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He decided to go to prep school because the only D-I offer he had was from Nicholls State in Louisiana. Wang said he was interested because there were several Australians on the roster, but the academics weren't what he was looking for.

That led him to Canterbury School in Connecticut for a post-graduate year. There, he was looked at by schools like Columbia and Boston University. They didn't fit his requirements. Williams did.

"In the end, Williams was the only one that was really interested and really serious," he said. "That's where I ended up."

Wang came to Williams to play for Dave Paulsen. But between recruitment and the start of the school year, Paulsen took the job at Division I Bucknell and Maker came on board in Williamstown. Wang admitted he felt a bit of trepidation coming to play for a new coach.

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That ended quickly.

"I'm very happy with Coach Maker and you couldn't ask for anyone better than Coach Maker," Wang said. "That's not even in my mind any more."

In his first year for Maker and the Ephs, Wang averaged 5.9 points per game in 11.6 minutes.

"I think I'm more confident in my ability to shoot from the outside," Wang said. "Last year, we had Kevin Snyder and Blake [Schultz], and both were 1,000-point scorers. They were the focal point of the offense. They had the green light.

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"Last year, I had to find my role around them and what I could do to help them get their shots."

His role took a while to develop. He played in only 21 of Williams' 26 games and basically played less than 10 minutes a game until he played 22 minutes in a 62-58 loss against Hamilton and came back three days later to score 22 points in 19 minutes in a 96-59 win over Tufts.

"I think it was very difficult for him as a freshman because we had three senior guards in Snyder, [Mike] Kearney and [Tommas] Golia, who had three years on him," Maker said. "James was patient and waited for his opportunity. When his opportunity presented itself, he took full advantage -- and the rest is history."

Now, Williams has a point guard who can slash to the basket and score or dish to a teammate, take the 3-point shot or pass the ball to an open wing. Defensively, he is right up in the face of the opposition.

And Wang does that while being thousands of miles from home.

He said that at every place he's been in the States, he's been surrounded by what he called great people -- be it in Florida, Connecticut and Massachusetts. They've all become part of Wang's extended family.

"Home right now is where I am," he said. "I do think about Australia and some of the people I left behind. Not as much, because of what I have here."

To reach Howard Herman: hherman@berkshireeagle.com, (413) 496-6253.


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