Williams on pro basketball success: “It’s in me, not on me.”

August 30, 2020

Travante Williams

European league veteran Travante Williams of Anchorage is a relentless defender on the basketball court, continuously hounding ballhandlers and disrupting opponents.

He makes the game uncomfortable. Maybe it’s because he’s used to being uncomfortable, having been on the move so much throughout his life. He attended five high schools, went to four colleges and has played professionally in two foreign countries.

“I took risks and always looked at everything as a challenge,” Williams said. “I learned fast growing up and seen a lot. I grew up around what I didn’t want. Each chapter there’s a new journey where you have to battle something new. I’m still in it.”

Williams, 27, is about to begin his fifth season at the pro level, his fourth in Portugal, where he is the reigning Portuguese League MVP, a three-time Defensive Player of the Year and two-time league champion.

Last year with Sporting Lisbon he averaged 17.2 points, 4.8 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 2.2 steals in 19 games before his season was cut short due to the COVID pandemic.

Williams, of Mt. Edgecumbe High and UAF fame, is a self-made superstar who has emerged as one of finest players from Alaska. His path to the pros was unconventional – he wasn’t a 4A player, didn’t play D1 in college and lacked institutional connections.

“I’m truly appreciative of the journey,” Williams said. “I get reminded from time to time and I laugh and get doses of excitement about what I’ve accomplished. This experience has been dope.

“But there’s more. I know it. I want it.”

Believe him. The 6-foot-6 forward has made a living out of proving people wrong by overcoming odds and obstacles that derail most players from ever playing pro ball, let alone carving out a career.

“The physical gets you in the door but the mental keeps you there,” Williams said. “Your environment matters. Your character speaks. It’s a business overall, so your success isn’t necessarily always in your hands.

“But success is what you see it as. You have to decide for yourself what you want. It’s in me, not on me.”

Williams is popular among older Alaska basketball players for what he’s accomplished in the game. Even though his achievements have come a world away, his reputation preceded him with younger players who got to see him up close for the first time during a summer series of elite pickup games in Anchorage.

They saw a world-class defender do his thing, making life uncomfortable for ballhandlers on every possession. It’s almost like he takes it personally when somebody scores on him.

“Being a defender is heart,” Williams said. “Letting go of that fear of embarrassment. Next-play mindset. I want to win. That’s my ball and I need it.”

He plays with urgency, energy and an unrelenting drive, like he has something to lose.

“Running into adversity with basketball and life as a kid helped install this competitor inside me,” Williams said. “Success changes as you continue to climb the ladder.

“Right now, my motivation, what drives me, is the opportunity to create change, break generational curses, financial freedom. Show my family new life. They deserve it.”

Williams doesn’t rest on his reputation, but rather continues to work as if those past achievements never happened. A ferocious appetite keeps him hungry.

Williams has led his teams to a 94-11 record in Portugal.

“When you perform and get recognition and have some success, it’s great for the time being, but all this is really one long championship game,” he said. “To stay focused you can’t look back. Once you get a taste of success you want more.”

Williams spent his first pro season in the country of Georgia, where in 2017 he was named Import of the Year of the Georgian League after averaging a career-best 32.3 points per game and posting his first 50-burger.

He came to Portugal the next year and led Oliveirense to back-to-back Portuguese League championships in 2018 and 2019 before signing with Sporting Lisbon and helping assert Sporting as the top team in 2020 before COVID hit and shut down the season.

In three years in Portugal, his teams have a staggering .895 winning percentage (94-11).

His next trick? Mastering the Portuguese language.

“I’m the type to immerse myself in unfamiliar positions, but a country is a different animal when there’s a huge communication disconnect,” Williams said. “But it doesn’t have to be a negative thing. It can be difficult but rewarding. Because every little experience at the store or wherever you are learning and improving. I’m getting better but it’s time to sharpen my skills and hone in, so that’s next to come.”