In the days and weeks before Emmitt Williams chose to transfer to IMG Academy, he heard voices from all corners. Go there. Stay here. Be a team player. Don’t risk it. Don’t waste this opportunity.
It’s not a surprise that he found it all overwhelming. That he called a few former Lee County players for guidance. That he asked them, ‘What would you do in this situation?’
Emmitt is 17 years old, 6-foot-7 and a five-star rated basketball player in the Class of 2018. And while he only had one year of high school basketball at Lehigh, the hype surrounding him seemed to exacerbate the pressure. The words, ‘I know what’s best for you,’ likely came from not just one, but from many, some inside and outside his circle.
Here’s a quick retort for those people: No you do not.
The reality is, we won’t know for sure how his move to IMG Academy will end up. But it’s not your problem, anyway. In an ideal world, he needs to figure out this transition on his own and with the guidance of his family.
I tried many times to reach out to Emmitt during his decision process and never could. Lehigh wouldn’t give me his information, nor would coaches or athletes he formerly played with.
They were looking out for him. But from what I heard, Emmitt also didn’t want to be the center of attention. His father, whom Emmitt doesn’t live with, said he wanted everyone to just wish him the best and move on.
His mother who raised him also wanted to keep things private. In a situation like this, I routinely said, it was almost impossible. But part of me also respected their points.
Back in February, I spoke with Emmitt as the Lightning were set to head into the playoffs. He was surprisingly candid. He told me he watched a Kevin Durant highlight before every game. He was inspired by his late grandfather, who was the most important male figure in his life growing up.
He didn’t start playing basketball until the seventh grade. His great grandfathers were bowlers. His father, Emmitt Sr., who wasn’t in his life when he was younger, taught him the game of basketball.
But the point he kept bringing up was family. Lehigh felt like a family to him. Which is why I don’t understand why everyone around him wanted to hold on for so long. We often tell our children to go explore the world and grow. We tell them to get jobs, to learn, to experience and to find themselves.
Well, here was an opportunity for Emmitt to do just that.
If it’s a mistake, that’s up for him to figure out. But even if it is, he has enough time to change course and figure out his next move, whether that’s back at Lehigh or somewhere else.
I actually think it’s good for him to get a change of scenery. Nearly 10 years ago, the hype nearly crushed Noel Devine. Was it good for him that he stayed at North Fort Myers?
Will he always wonder why he never made it to the NFL? Of course he will. Any sane person would, too, if they had the kind of high school experience he had.
So while Emmitt made a decision that came as a shock to many, he did it at the right time. He did it before the hype could overwhelm his life.
Does he forgo a traditional high school experiences? Sure. Would Lehigh have been a force in basketball and a state title contender? Sure.
But the way I hear it, Emmitt felt like he wasn’t developing enough at Lehigh. And if that’s the case, then records and state championships don’t matter.
If it’s about the kids, then it has to be about the kids. If he needed a change of scenery, then he needs to take that opportunity.
Here’s the thing about IMG, though. It’s a factory. It’s a producer of talent. It provides the coaches, the equipment, the programs and the services, and hopefully you take what’s there and you run with it.
Now, does every athlete who attends IMG become a professional? Of course not. Emmitt will still need to work his tail off to get better.
But I think it’s a good move. He’s only 90 miles away from the place he calls home. He’s far enough away that he can experience new things, but close enough where his family can still see him.
He can grow at IMG and learn without leaning on all the comfort of home.
Sometimes, that’s how we adapt.
At least for Emmitt, that’s for him to figure out and the rest of us to just accept.