In mid-December, Kyle Williams's right knee started to become sore, but he thought nothing of it once he iced it down. But during a flight to see his girlfriend in Toronto a few weeks later, it became a problem he could not ignore.
"It looked like it was the size of a soccer ball," the Howard forward said. "I knew something was wrong."
The something wrong turned out to be a meniscus tear, enough to limit but not end Williams's senior season. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference's preseason player of the year, the 6-foot-7 Williams gamely has worked with the injury this season, averaging 15.6 points and 4.7 rebounds, good enough to earn second-team all-MEAC honors.
"I'm proud of the way he has played this season," Howard Coach Frankie Allen said. "We can still count on him every night."
Williams transferred to Howard from Colorado three years ago. As a freshman for the Buffaloes, he had injured his left knee and played with pain for two seasons. He wanted to take a year off to let the injury heal, but feared he would not be able to redshirt in Boulder.
The decision of where to transfer became easier when Buffaloes forward Aki Thomas and assistant coach Aki Collins both landed at Howard, which also moved Williams closer to his home town of Burlington, N.J.
"I didn't think I'd get the year off out there," Williams said. "You deal with ups and downs with basketball. It's a lot easier to deal with the downs when you're closer to home."
Last season Williams emerged as one of the MEAC's dominant players, earning a spot on the all-MEAC first team by averaging 18.7 points as the Bison came within a game of the NCAA tournament.
Now, "he's only a shell of the player he would be if he was healthy," forward Seye Aluko said.
Williams acknowledges as much. "It's been a frustrating year," he said. "To not be able to do certain things when I want, it's crazy. I won't be able to accelerate all game, then suddenly it'll be there, and then I won't be able to stop. It's never all there at the same time."
The injury robbed Williams of his lift, preventing him from elevating on his jump shot or attacking the basket with the same vigor of a year ago. But Williams compensates for his new floor-bound game with his head.
He still can summon enough energy to shut down one of the league's most dangerous scorers, Tee Trotter of Maryland-Eastern Shore, at a critical juncture in a 83-76 victory on Jan. 30 and still have enough left to hit key back-to-back jumpers in overtime. Trotter had blistered the Bison for 42 points, but was smothered by Williams in the game's final minutes.
Howard (11-15, 9-8) travels to Maryland-Eastern Shore (4-22, 4-13) tonight for its regular season finale.
Injured knee or not, Allen gave Williams much of the team's offensive and defensive burden -- because Allen had little doubt Williams could handle it. As shooting guard Ron Williamson got hot and freshman point guard Louis Ford served a nine-game suspension, Williams exclusively played point guard for long stretches, logging as close to 40 minutes a game as he could bear.
"I'm a tougher person now than I was as a freshman," Williams said. "I'll get through this."