Ahead of the Locker Room Access Showcase event Saturday, Jan. 15, high school freshman Austin Williford of St. Anne’s-Belfield sat down for an interview with his classmate Rose and spoke about his experiences with basketball, his father, adapting to St. Anne’s-Belfield, how he sees himself as a player, and more:
When did you first start playing basketball?
I started taking basketball seriously around fourth or fifth grade. That’s when I realized, “dang, this is what I want to do.” My dad really got me into the sport, being around him a lot at practice and games at UVA.
How do you think your dad has directly helped you in the development of your basketball skills?
I wasn’t always naturally gifted at basketball. I was always athletic, but the skill part wasn’t always there for me. He helped me out with getting my handles right and getting my shot right — I must’ve changed it five times since I started playing — he just helped me a lot with my shot. I give most of my credit to him for my shot.
Did he ever coach in your youth leagues?
He never coached, but he always showed up to my games and supported me in AAU and middle school ball. He didn’t coach, but was always a big supporter.
Malachi Poindexter said St. Anne’s-Belfield was a very challenging school academically. How do you balance basketball and academics?
This is my first year at STAB’s upper school, and there’s definitely more work, but it’s all about planning. Work always has to come before hoops. I try to get work done in school so I don’t have as much to handle afterwards.
Do you have a pregame routine?
I listen to the same song before every game: “Lose Yourself” by Eminem. It always gets me in the right mindset.
What are your biggest strengths and weaknesses as a player?
I am constantly working on my game. I have been focusing on my shooting — the three ball, pull-up, midrange, all of that. It’s becoming my strength. I can handle it pretty well. My finishing is getting there and I need to work on my playmaking abilities — I’ve been working on it, but I just need to apply that to the games.
Basketball probably takes up a lot of your time. Do you have any hobbies that you like to do outside of basketball?
I fish with my dad a lot. That’s always fun to do when I’m not working out. We go fish, or we go bowl… Bowling is between me and my dad. I beat him most of the time.
You’re a starter on the STAB varsity team as a freshman. Is that a lot of pressure? How do you see your role on the team?
At first, I was a little nervous, but after the first day I was just fine. I feel like my role is as the shooter. I’m the shooter on the team. I can relieve some of the pressure on John and Chance by handling the ball some. I just do whatever the team needs.
Playing against kids much older than you is probably daunting. Are there any matchups that are difficult for you, or are there any matchups that are easy for you?
I’ve been playing up most of my life, so going against older kids doesn’t really bother me that much. I feel like some of my go-to moves are definitely my pull-up, because that catches people off guard, and my ability to finish through contact is better than people expect as well.
You’re playing in the Locker Room Access showcase this Saturday against Norfolk, whose team has Justin Burroughs. I know your dad and his dad were teammates. Do you have experience playing with or against him?
I’ve played against Justin a lot. That’s basically my cousin right there. That’s family. It’s going to be competitive — I love playing against Justin, I love kicking his tail. But it’s going to be very competitive. I’m looking forward to this game a lot.
Have you thought about colleges at all? Are there any teams or coaches that you really want to play for?
I haven’t started looking at colleges yet. I haven’t gotten any calls. I would love to play in the ACC though, just putting that out there.
Tell me about the first time you dunked.
My first baby dunk was in seventh grade. We were at practice and I was with one of my teammates here, Gabe D’alessandro. He threw the ball up just joking like ‘hey, throw the lob!’ and I just went up and dunked it. My first real dunk was in eighth grade, same thing. Gabe threw a lob off the backboard and I just caught it and dunked it. It was my first legit dunk. I was really excited.
How is your season going so far? I know you’re a very young team. Do you have any hopes or goals for this season or next season?
As you said, we’re still very young. We’re still learning — learning how to play together, learning how the game is at the varsity level — but we’re still doing very well, even with a young team. I think in the future, next year, we’re going to be top-five in the state. We’ve just got so much talent. It’s going to be fun to play with everybody.