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UMass point guard Chaz Williams connects with Giants receiver Victor Cruz

  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz throws teeshirts to the crowd during a timeout at Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz throws teeshirts to the crowd during a timeout at Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz smiles for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz smiles for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz poses for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz poses for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz throws teeshirts to the crowd during a timeout at Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz smiles for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • New York Giants Pro Bowl wide receiver and UMass alumnus Victor Cruz poses for a portrait during Umass vs. Dayton's men's basketball game in Amherst on Saturday, February 23, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

AMHERST

When Chaz Williams found out former University of Massachusetts and current New York Giants star receiver Victor Cruz was planning to come to a game, the Minuteman junior had a special tribute in mind.

“I actually wanted to do a little salsa dance,” said Williams in reference to Cruz’s end zone routine. “But we were on a three-game losing streak so I didn’t want to pull that out. I’ll save that for Brooklyn and the Barclays Center.”

Cruz and Williams share similar backgrounds, infectious personalities that draw people to them, and small statures that made them overlooked as recruits coming out of high school. Even though their time in Amherst didn’t overlap, the schools’ most popular recent alumnus and its most popular current athlete have become fast friends.

“Victor Cruz was a great football player here and carried it over to the Giants, which is my favorite football team,” said Williams, a Brooklyn, N.Y., native. “Him being from the Tri-State Area (Patterson, N.J.), we have some of the same understandings of how we grew up and what it was like growing up in tough areas. We’ve embraced each other as good friends. We talk as much as possible.”

Cruz, who held an impromptu press conference just after halftime of Saturday’s UMass-Dayton game, used a big portion of it to talk about Williams.

“I speak to him every chance I get. I get my updates (on the basketball team) from him,” Cruz said. “He never ceases to amaze me. I’m more than proud of him. Hopefully he continues to do all the positive things he’s doing on the court. His personality is a little more upbeat than I was. He’s a good kid. He means well. He’s positive. He’s a great player for this program and a great role model for this community and this program. I’m really proud of him.”

Cruz liked that Williams wears No. 3, which he wore on the football field at UMass.

“When you wear No. 3 in this program it means a great deal,” Cruz said. “Hopefully we can keep this tradition going. Chaz is doing a great job.”

The number’s tradition wasn’t lost on Williams.

“Gary Forbes passed it down to me. He wanted me to do good things with it,” Williams said. “Him wearing 3 and then Vic wearing 3, that means something to me, because I have close relationships with those guys.”

On Friday, Cruz, who was a bigger basketball fan than football growing up, tweeted that he was thinking of going to a college basketball game Saturday. Williams immediately sent him a direct message. “He said, ‘Bro you’ve got to come,’” Cruz said.

Williams’ sales pitch, the chance to see a game, the plans for the football facility upgrades and a slice of pizza from Antonio’s sealed Cruz’s first trip to Amherst since seeing the Minutemen beat Xavier a year ago.

“I come every year showing love to the team and the school, going to Antonio’s bringing back all those memories. It’s a good feeling,” said Cruz, who tweeted “S/O to everyone who showed love at the Umass basketball game yesterday. Great times. Never forget where it started” after the game.

Cruz, who is a restricted free agent, said he hopes to wrap up a long-term deal with the Giants, but also shed some light on his plans for life after football.

“I think I want to get into broadcasting a little bit. I was thinking I might want to act a little bit, jump into these movies and see if I can be the first guy with a Super Bowl ring and an Oscar,” Cruz said. “We’ll see how that goes.”

Williams might be able to offer Cruz advice on the latter pursuit. Anyone who has seen Williams’ attempts to earn a trip to the free-throw line, knows the point guard has at least a little acting skill. Cruz kept his advice to Williams simple.

“He just told me to keep playing hard and keep my head up,” Williams said. “He expects big things out of me.”

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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