Throughout Black History Month, the University of Toronto Varsity Blues will be celebrating the achievements of Black Varsity Blues athletes, highlighting their accomplishments and showcasing their impact in shaping the history of U of T. This week, the spotlight is on Michael Williams, a basketball and faculty alum, who has since become a registered physiotherapist and co-owner of Trent Health in Motion in Peterborough.
For Varsity Blues men's basketball alumnus Michael Williams, the community and relationships he was able to build throughout his time at the University of Toronto not only benefited his student-athlete experience while on-campus, but also prepared him for his career after graduation.
A member of the Blues basketball team from 2002 to 2007, Williams was a standout during his time in the Blue and White. Leading the Blues as team captain in three of his five seasons, he remains part of the program's legacy inside the U of T record books as the programs all-time leader in rebounds (662) and blocks (167), while also ranking in the Top 10 in career points (1,032). Williams was named an OUA all-star on three occasions (2005, 2006, 2007) and earned OUA defensive player of the year honours twice (2006, 2007).
Yet, even with the numerous accolades and exceptional performances under his belt while competing, it is the feeling of community during his time at U of T that remains the standout for the record-setter.
"During my Varsity Blues career we had been in the national Top 10 at times, won playoff games, and on an individual level I won some awards, but I think that definitely the most memorable aspect of my time was my teammates and the relationships I built with them – that is the thing I will always remember and hold onto," said Williams. "Those types of friendships are priceless and far more important that any specific game or basketball moment itself."
After earning an Honours Bachelor's degree in U of T's Physical Education and Health program, Williams went on to add two more master's to his education receiving a Master of Science in Physical Therapy from Queen's University and Master of Clinical Science at Western University. Now a registered physiotherapist, he has since become co-owner of Trent Health in Motion in Peterborough.
"From an educational perspective, being in the Physical Education and Health program, and being at U of T, with opportunities to do clinical placements in different settings, gave me a better understanding of where I wanted to go with my career. Developing relationships within the David L. MacIntosh Sport Medicine Clinic, having lots of good conversations with the physiotherapists there, those things continued to confirm my thinking that I wanted to go down the path of becoming a physiotherapist, and I did exactly that."
What has attributed to a longevity of success for Williams both on the court and beyond? He recounts the trust and confidence he was able to build in himself during his time at U of T through the support of his teammates and his coaches.
"I've been in scenarios at U of T where my teammates trusted me to play a key role, and maybe in those times I didn't always come through. But I think when you get further away from some of those disappointments, the silver lining is in those moments they did trust you to try and make that play. Remembering that is something that builds confidence because if they believed in you, you should believe in yourself too."
"I would also give a special recognition to Coach Mike Katz who was head coach of the basketball team for my last three years at U of T. I always felt like he approached me first and foremost as a person, more so than a basketball player. I always appreciated that because I don't think that is necessarily the posture that everyone brings when communicating with you, especially as a black male playing basketball. I believe sometimes people will approach you with an attitude of 'of course you play basketball' or 'that is all you are'. I never felt in my interactions with him he viewed me as just an athlete or just a basketball player – I thought he saw me as a person."
When looking forward and providing advice for the next generation of Varsity Blues, Williams prioritizes the community that is found within.
"I am hopeful that this is a moment when people will be more receptive to the need for initiatives and organizations like the BIPOC Varsity Association (BVA) to represent the viewpoint of athletes who sometimes are not really given the opportunity to voice some of their concerns and be taken seriously," said Williams. "For me, I was fortunate to find a great group of athletes to compete with in my years, and I hope the current and future Varsity Blues are able to find that group and that community, as well, with their teammates, the BVA or anywhere on campus that they can feel welcomed."