Men's Basketball

‘More Than an Athlete:’ How Lucas Williamson Found His Voice

People know Lucas Williamson, Loyola men’s basketball player. His performance on college basketball’s biggest stage gave him a platform; he’s using it to make a difference with his voice. 

The Final Four run lit a fire in him, changed him, not just as a player, but as a person, instilling more confidence, which led to him seeking and finding his voice, and ultimately using it to talk about life, to serve as a role model and to define who he wants to become.

As Lucas himself puts it, he wants “to be more than an athlete.”

“I have goals, aspirations that go after basketball,” Lucas said. “I have different sets of goals not just on the court.”

Lucas grew up in Chicago’s South Loop with his family — his father, Lucas Williamson II; his mother, Louiza Williamson; and his younger sister, Lauren Williamson. His mom worked at the YMCA that introduced Lucas to what would become his second home: the basketball court. 

Lucas’ dad said as soon Lucas could walk they enrolled him in gym classes for babies. He said him and his wife wanted to raise both of their kids emphasizing academics and athletics.

Lucas at age 5. Photo courtesy of Lucas Williamson II.

“At 3 p.m. Lucas and I and his sister were at the YMCA gym,” Lucas’ dad said. “I lowered a basket and began training Lucas and his sister in basic basketball. I knew the benefit of keeping kids busy. So we played in the gym, studied in the gym.”

League play started around age six, with his dad at his side as a coach through grade school. He played every position and studied film and was able to develop a strong understanding for the game. 

At  the same time, around  the  dinner table, his dad told stories from his job. Lucas’ dad worked in the news industry for 46 years. He worked as a cameraman at ABC 7 in Chicago and was also a photographer. He spent time traveling the world for the job. 

“I think Lucas was victimized by the dinner table talk when I’m talking to the family about what I cover [and] what I do,” Lucas’ dad said. “I think that kind of interested him.” 

 His dad imparted on him the power of the media — a big message for a young kid.

“Ever since a young age, my dad has always stressed being able to talk to the media …  perception is everything,” Lucas said. “If you even half-heartedly make a decision, it could be portrayed in such a wrong way that you might not have even thought of and he wanted me to be aware of that.”

This guided Lucas, now 20, to his major in college — journalism. 

His parents described Lucas as an inquisitive child growing up. They said he was always trying to take away something of value from every interaction he had. 

Lucas’ dad said that’s what led Lucas to communications. He also said he wouldn’t be surprised if that focus landed him a career in politics if he didn’t end up playing professional basketball. 

“I think Lucas was victimized by the dinner table talk when I’m talking to the family about what I cover [and] what I do. I think that kind of interested him.” 

Lucas Williamson II, Lucas’ dad

“He understands communications,” Lucas’ dad said. “He understands that it’s power. That has a lot of influence. Communications you can change the world. I wouldn’t put politics far from him because he can control an audience and he loves speaking.”  

Lucas credits his parents as the most influential people to the development of his voice and his character. There was never a time they weren’t supportive, he said. They always pushed him in the right direction and stepped in to help.

While his parents loved his talent, they made sure Lucas stayed humble.

“My parents, they always told me not to gloat,” Lucas said. “If you have success, you should share the wealth. Especially in basketball when it’s a team effort. I’m not going to get any further than any of my teammates, so it’s important to spread the wealth [and] share the glory because nothing you are ever going to do in life is just you.”

That manifested when he won the state championship at Whitney Young Magnet High School. 

When his team went on to win the Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Class 4A championship, Lucas was the only first-year on a team led by now New Orleans Pelican center and former third overall NBA draft pick, Jahlil Okafor. After winning, Lucas said he knew he wanted to go back someday so he could share the glory with more people. 

“I remember [telling my family] I want to be able to do this again,” Lucas said. “Except it’s going to be my team with my guys. Luckily I learned from that year and I remembered that feeling until my senior year of high school.”

Left to right: Lucas Williamson II (dad), Lucas Williamson III, Louiza Williamson (mom), Lauren Williamson (sister). Photo courtesy of Lucas Williamson II

Lucas was able to lead his team back to the IHSA Class 4A championship and get another state championship title under his belt his senior year. After this, he started receiving scholarship offers from three Division I schools.  

Enter Porter Moser and the Loyola men’s basketball team. 

“Lucas is a great student, is extremely tough and is all about winning,” Moser said in a press release following the signing of Lucas. “He has old-school values and is the ultimate competitor. During his recruitment, he told me a story of how he took his teammates to watch the Chicago Cubs World Series parade to feel what it was like to have a championship celebration. I knew then that we needed to sign him.”

Lucas said he had no expectations coming into his first year on the Loyola roster. He just wanted to play ball and enjoy himself. 

Except fate intervened. Ben Richardson, one of Loyola’s star players, was injured in the third game of that season. Richardson, who was Lucas’ mentor, was out 10 games, leaving Lucas without much choice but to fill that hole.

“He got a lot of experience last year and so this year he just became a natural leader,” sophomore center and Lucas’s roommate Christian Negron said. “Making sure we’re doing all of our [basketball] assignments, he’s just talking and being a vocal leader as well as leading by example.” 

“Now, Lucas has had to lead by voice since he can’t lead by example. That’s where he’s had to find his voice. You kind of look at the game through the coaches eyes, so you get a different perspective.”

Matt Gordon, Loyola assistant coach

Despite the 2018 season being his first year on the squad, Lucas ended up being a vital member in the historic Final Four team. One of his key plays was against University of Miami in the first round of the tournament. Miami first-year guard Lonnie Walker IV was dribbling down the sideline, Lucas knocked the ball away, off Walker’s leg and out of bounds —  a key turnover which later help set up Donte Ingram’s last second, game-winning shot.

Plays such as the one with Walker and the overall experience gave him more confidence in his game and in himself. 

“I realized that I can play at this level,” Lucas said. “I was trying to prove coming out of high school being under-recruited and, you know, not necessarily proving others but proving to myself that I can be who I want to who I thought I was.”

Lucas’ dad believed the Final Four to be the catalyst to Lucas finding his voice. He said his son always had communication skills within him and he always had a voice, but it was the Final Four that pushed him to really utilize them. 

Hanako Maki | The PHOENIX Lucas goes up for a reverse layup against Kansas State in the Elite Eight of the 2018 NCAA Tournament. Hanako Maki | The Phoenix

“Loyola going to the Final Four couldn’t have happened to a better team,” Lucas’ dad said. “[It] couldn’t have happened to a better person than Lucas because he embraced that and he finally had a platform that he could address people about how he came up.”

The Final Four opened up an avenue to do what Lucas wanted on the largest stage he’s had so far. Since the end of last season, Lucas has been sharing his experiences both on and off the court with anyone who’ll listen.

He’s passed along his message on multiple stages. 

The first being a talk at Life Church — a multicultural and multigenerational church in Chicago where Lucas has attended and done service with for most of his life. 

His speech focused on God’s plan and the importance of listening, learning and leadership and how those things have impacted the success of his life. 

“The older I got, I realized that listening and learning help you to become a leader,” Lucas said in his talk. “Leadership is the ultimate goal. I wanted to learn as much as I possibly could and be able to reciprocate [what I’ve learned].”

His goal was to motivate the young members among his church, to make sure they knew you don’t have to be an adult to make a difference in someone’s life. 

Another speech he gave was in front of Loyola alumni at Founders’ Dinner — Loyola’s signature fundraising event for student scholarships. The topic was on the importance of education and representing Loyola. 

“Education is so powerful,” Lucas said in his speech. “It is how people form relationships and create connections that can open new doors for life-changing opportunities.”

“I’m an African-American kid coming from inner-city Chicago. It’s important for me to have my voice heard so I can be an influencer. I can be a role model to the next kid that wants to be whatever they want to be.”

Lucas Williamson III, Loyola sophomore guard

Lucas said it’s the education he’s received at Loyola and Loyola as a whole that has opened doors for him. It’s because of Loyola he was introduced to his teammates — his “brothers.” 

In his speech, he mentioned he focuses on teaching the new players the importance of representing Loyola in the right way, holding themselves to a high standard and holding each other accountable to that standard. 

“That’s part of our culture,” Lucas said. “When our new guys come in, we teach them. These are our ways. Not only that this is how we play basketball, but this is how we represent each other.” 

Being a role model to teammates is easier to do when you’re playing on the court. This season, Lucas has been out for a majority of the season due to a broken hand. Although it’s been harder, he said he’s still been able to be a voice for the team. 

Lucas taking a photo with a fan while visiting his grammar school after the Final Four run. Courtesy of Lucas Williamson II.

Instead of taking one player under guidance, Lucas has been helping a few players — junior guard Bruno Skokna, sophomore forward Aher Uguak and first-year Cooper Kaifes — try and fill the hole he left behind, according to assistant coach Matt Gordon. Like Richardson took Lucas under his wing, Lucas has done the same for some of his teammates since his injury.

He’s found opportunities by being more of a background player. From the bench, he can see the whole picture and he’s able to guide players through that aspect. 

“Now, Lucas has had to lead by voice since he can’t lead by example,” Gordon said. “That’s where he’s had to find his voice. You kind of look at the game through the coaches eyes, so you get a different perspective.” 

Lucas has done a lot of big things and has given a lot of motivational talks, but most importantly, he’s been able to be a role model to other inner-city Chicago children. 

“It’s important, knowing who I am,” Lucas said. “I’m an African-American kid coming from inner-city Chicago. It’s important for me to have my voice heard so I can be an influencer. I can be a role model to the next kid that wants to be whatever they want to be.” 

Lucas and the Ramblers are scheduled to play University of Northern Iowa Feb. 27 at McLeod Center, tip off is set for 7 p.m. The game will be broadcasted on ESPN 3. Moser said he hopes Lucas will join the team again soon, but for now, his voice is what he brings to the court.

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