DREW Williamson is that rare breed whose life has seemingly thrived after leaving life as a professional athlete with him now married, a father, working in a job he loves and still finding time to be an elite player and leader in the SBL with the East Perth Eagles.
Far too often do we hear of professional athletes, whatever the sport, finding themselves lacking direction in life once their career comes to an end, and perhaps never finding a way to replace the high of what competing at the highest levels as a sportsperson produces.
But even though Williamson had an NBL career that he deserves to be proud of at the Townsville Crocodiles, Sydney Spirit and Perth Wildcats where he played in 190 games, including the ‘Cats 2010 championship, his life has really taken off since.
Williamson has committed himself to playing in the SBL ever since and has done so tremendously at East Perth where he’s now played 168 matches and continues to play to a high level, and was championship-winning captain along the way in 2014.
But it’s away from basketball where Williamson’s life has taken off post his NBL career.
He is now married to Katie, the couple welcomed their first child, daughter Riley, into the world just over a year ago and the 34-year-old has found a career that he couldn’t possibly enjoy any more selling and designing new homes.
“I think I’m one of the lucky few who leave the NBL and fall into a career they love straightaway,” Williamson said.
“I’ve had a lot of friends bouncing around from job to job trying to find something that they can occupy themselves with outside of basketball.
“I’ve been going on six years in the same job and I love what I do, and couldn’t imagine doing anything else. I find myself very lucky that I was able to fall into something that suits me so well.
“Being a father honestly is the best feeling I could ever imagine. My daughter turned one last week. I couldn’t wait to be a dad, and I was ready for it, but I had no idea the feeling and emotion I would get from being a father.
“As bad as any day, game, training can be, it all vanishes once I get a cuddle from her. When Riley walks over to me and grabs my leg, the worst thing in the world is no longer in my mind and all I care about is my family.”
As for basketball, Williamson is having another impressive season for East Perth as part of a team still fighting for a playoff position.
He has shown he’s more than capable of putting up big numbers and having big scoring nights, but he’s also been asked at times to be more of a facilitator, particularly since the arrival of Anthony Golden, and he’s effective in that role too.
At least on the surface, he looks in great shape and like his body is holding together well also, so with his form and health both staying sound, there’s no reason yet for him to think the end is coming while he’s still enjoying life on the basketball court.
“Personally I did say at the start of the year when I was weighing up whether it would be my final season or not that I decided I would give it 100 per cent so I worked hard on getting my body to where it needs to be as an “evergreen veteran”,” he said.
“I’m happy with how things are going and I have been used a bit more as a utility player as we’ve brought new guys in and I’m not relied on to take a majority of the shots.
“I’m happy with how I’m doing and I was privileged to be an All-Star again this year. Given everything so far this season, it potentially might mean I have one or two years left in me.
“I think I show a strong face in terms of my body as it’s being held together by sticky tape behind closed doors. I do look at some of the other guys at my age who are a lot fitter and I’m jealous, then there are others who can no longer play because their bodies won’t let them.
“I guess I find myself quite lucky to be in a position where I can still run around with the young guys. Knock on wood, I’ve always been pretty durable but it probably has been assisted by my lack of athleticism and not leaving the ground.”
With Aaron Berryman taking over as head coach at East Perth this year, the decision was made to back in the young players even though they were still surrounded by veterans like Williamson, Joe-Alan Tupaea and Corey Easley, and now imports Jonathan Morse and Golden.
Williamson was happy to help lead the way of the young players and has enjoyed watching the growth of the likes of Aiden Murphy, Andrej Donlagic and Jermaine Malie.
“We’ve put a long of responsibility on those young guys this year and we’ve given them the opportunity to play as many minutes as they earn. A lot of them have taken the opportunity and run with it,” he said.
“Guys like Aiden Murphy and Andrej have really stepped forward, and we’ve had some pleasant surprises with guys like Jermaine Malie who has taken every opportunity he’s been given, and excelled with the extra minutes.
“Jermaine has even started for us over the last six or seven games and doing a great job. For the last couple of seasons, we’ve been saying Andrej could potentially be the best wingman in the league and this year we feel like he’s finally looked in the mirror and realised that himself.
“The second half of the season has shown that he is one of the better West Australian juniors coming through.”
Point guard is always the most difficult role for a young player, but Williamson has no doubt that 20-year-old Murphy is someone the Eagles can build the team around for years to come.
“Out of any position, being a young point guard is probably the hardest to excel in because of the amount of responsibility you have. You’re the head of the dog, the one calling the plays, leading the team and talking during the huddles,” Williamson said.
“We understand that Aiden is young and has room to grow, but he’s done a fantastic job and from where he was last year to now, he has taken on the responsibility with great results.
“We expect with what he’s learning this year to become even better next year and to be a significant focal point of our team.
“We know what we’re going to get from him every week on defence and we use that to our advantage, but his offence and decision making has come a long way in our 21 games this year and it will only get better with age.”
As for the SBL as a whole, Williamson is in a good position to compare it to the other leagues across the country and he feels the depth of competitive teams in the competition is one thing that continues to set it apart.
“I’ve played in most of the leagues across Australia; the Waratah League, the QBL and the SEABL, and they all have their very strong teams but it’s what the rest of the league does that makes it a strong league or not,” he said.
“The thing about the SBL is that you always have your top two or three teams who are very strong and could compete with anyone in Australia. Then there’s a huge middle portion of the league from fourth through 11th who compete among each other for that top eight spot.
“The level of the competition in terms of the top teams is as good as anywhere, but it’s the second tier down that puts the SBL in a position to compete with any other league in Australia.
“It makes it stressful because no one is guaranteed a spot in the eight and we’ve been lucky to finish seventh when we’ve been on the same wins as teams who have missed out, but we’ve also missed out because we’ve been on the lower end of the splits.
“Having such a level competition does give you that confidence that you can beat any team on any given night though.”
While Williamson is proud of the things he has achieved individually throughout his playing career, it’s the team success that sticks with him like the 2010 NBL championship at the Wildcats and the 2014 SBL title with East Perth.
And it’s the prospect that playoffs remain a possibility for the Eagles in 2018 with a month of the season remaining that keeps his motivation high.
“You can look back on your career through juniors, college, NBL and the state leagues at the what ifs and if onlys, but the thing that can never be taken away or argued is championships,” Williamson said.
“One of the reasons I play basketball is the team spirit. Succeeding with nine other guys is what makes it special, and knowing that you can share that with them forever.
“It’s something that only a lucky few people get to feel. I’d love to get back to that mountaintop before I retire and if it happens, then great but if it doesn’t at least I’ve had a taste of what it feels like.
“The motivation will always going to be there and especially now as we still have a chance to make the finals. Realistically, coming into this season we saw making the finals as our objective and we still have a chance to achieve that.”