The Last Shot: A Star is Born

Max Williams, kneeling left, and Wilbur Marsh, kneeling right formed a high-scoring tandem at SMU For legendary Coach Doc Hayes.

Little Max, who hails from a tiny speck on the Texas map, a little place called Avoca, is the fancy dan of the maples.

Max Williams should not have been a great basketball player. He was too short. He came from the small Texas town of Avoca. He had only twelve in his graduating class. But nobody could stop him or slow him down. Max Williams became the all-time scoring leader for Texas High Schools. He was an All-American at SMU, a flashy passer, a deadly shooter.

Max Williams should have not even been in the oilfield. He had majored in insurance. He had been a high-dollar player in Dallas commercial real estate, but the bottom fell out of the market. He was dead broke when he gambled on oil exploration and ventured into the Austin chalk of Giddings, Texas. He knew very little about the business, but he drilled on guts and on gumption alone.

Giddings was known as the field of broken dreams. Major companies had drilled in the chalk and left behind dry holes and empty pockets. But Max Williams didn’t flinch. He defied the dreaded Austin Chalk and developed the nation’s greatest and most profitable oilfield in half a century.

He was never afraid of adversity. He was never afraid of failure. All Max Williams ever wanted on the basketball court or in the Texas oilfield was a chance to take the last shot.

Sampler: The Last Shot

SMU’s great basketball team had been built on the back of Jim Krebs’s stardom. He was tall. He was big. He was tough. He had a hook shot nobody could block.

Now the baton is passed to to the little man.

Now it belongs to Max Williams.

It’s his job to fill it up.

He does his best.

As the Associated Press reports: “A crowd of eight thousand roared as Max Williams, 5-10, not only blocked the shot but out-leaped 6-10 H.E. Kirchner of TCU on the jump ball that followed. Williams, SMU’s spectacular playmaker, is already considered the greatest crowd pleaser in Southwest Conference basketball.

“Little Max, who hails from a tiny speck on the Texas map, is the fancy dan of the maples. The crowd becomes ecstatic when Williams leaps and passes off behind him – or in any direction except the way he’s looking. And when he passes the ball behind his back as he races down the court, pandemonium breaks loose.”

“’If the guy was 6-10, he’d hit the rafters every time he jumped,’ Coach Doc Hayes says.

“They call Max a showboat, but, take it from Doc Hayes, the boy doesn’t intend it that way. ‘He’s the most unusual player I ever saw,’ Hayes comments. ‘He has more natural ability, he has the quickest reactions, he jumps the highest, is the cleverest dribbler, and he has more ways of passing the ball than Bob Cousy. I saw Cousy as a senior at Holy Cross, and he could never do what Max can do with a basketball.’

“Max is one of the best outside shooters Hayes ever had. And he’s the most dangerous ball-stealer in the league. Not a game goes by that Max doesn’t steal the ball at least three times. Usually, he dribbles the distance of the court and sinks a layup while the opposition watches with dazed looks on their faces.”

Coach knows he can’t change Max. Wouldn’t want to if he could. Doc’s in a dither most of the time. But he’s learning to endure it. He’s watching a once-in-a-lifetime talent.

It’s the second day of December, and the Mustangs have left the warm autumn weather behind them. When their plane flies out of Dallas, the temperature is seventy degrees. They are in Minnesota, and already winter has begun to take its toll on the land of ten thousand lakes.

Snow in the air.

Ice on the ground.

“Minnesota plays in a big old field house,” SMU forward Wilbur Marsh remembers. “It was cold outside. It was cold inside. Throughout the entire game, fans sat in the stands wearing their overcoats buttoned up to their throats.”

Are those cheers?


It’s the sound of teeth chattering.

SMU players don’t want to take off their warmups. Don’t have a case of nerves. Have a bad case of chill bumps. The object is not to win on a chilled December night. The object is to get out of Minnesota without frostbite.

The action is heated if nothing else. Marsh grabs a rebound and dishes the ball out to Max.

Max is already on the run. Marsh is right behind.

Big 10 teams are not built for speed. Its schools have big, strong, powerful players. They will beat you to a pulp on the boards, swinging elbows like sledgehammers. Nothing dirty. Nothing unfair. Just muscle, grit, and tenacity. Max figures it keeps them warm when the cold is knifing its way into the arenas.

Keep fighting?

One of us is going to get hurt.

Minnesota doesn’t run fast breaks. Minnesota runs slow-down breaks. It has to. The basketball court is raised about three feet off the floor. Go a couple of feet past the backboard, and it’s like falling off a ledge.



And breaks.

Max doesn’t have any slow-down to his fast breaks.

Marsh says, “He’s going so fast when he hits his layup that he can’t stop. Max grabs hold of the post and swings completely around it before his feet touch the floor again.”

He trots back down the court as if he does it all the time.

The crowd is hushed.

Even the teeth have stopped chattering.

Max is a showman all right.

He’s a high-wire act working without a net.

No one can dispute it.

But SMU still has one question that’s still unanswered.

Can Max Williams win?

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