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Mission accomplished for Willy Workman of Northampton

Amherst College forward Willy Workman of Northampton hoists the trophy after the Jeffs 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship  game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo)

Amherst College forward Willy Workman of Northampton hoists the trophy after the Jeffs 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in the NCAA Division III national championship game Sunday in Atlanta. (AP Photo) Purchase photo reprints »

Most of Amherst College senior Willy Workman’s peers were probably fretting about more mundane things such as landing a good job in a tough economy following graduation, but he had his own plan.

As much became obvious last October when Amherst men’s basketball coach David Hixon asked his players to write down their greatest fear.

When Workman returned the form, Hixon could only laugh. His answer: “The guy at the factory will get my size wrong for my championship ring.”

“I just wanted to show in a light-hearted way how much confidence I had in this team and the mission,” Workman said at Philips Arena after following through by helping the Jeffs to an 87-70 win over Mary Hardin-Baylor in Sunday’s NCAA Division III national championship game.

“That was always our goal, to win a national championship,” said Workman, a versatile forward from Northampton who has overcome some long odds along the way.

The youngster who grew up around the program and overcame potential career-threatening hip injuries while in high school is now a third-team, Division III All-American who can do it all. And he does it well enough so he might even have a possible professional future ahead of him.

Workman enjoyed his signature game against then-No. 3 Middlebury, totaling a career-high 30 points and a personal-best 13 rebounds to lift his team to a 104-101 triple-overtime win on Feb. 12.

“I love basketball,” he said. “I want to play until they carry me off the court. And then I want to coach because it’s what I love to do.”

Workman’s passion for the game was evident on Sunday, as he registered a team-high 10 rebounds, four assists, two blocked shots and a steal to go along with his 14 points to help secure a second national title for the school and coach that he grew up idolizing.

“It feels great,” Workman said. “They’ve given me so much support over the years. It feels great to be able to give something back.”

Workman’s efforts have not gone unnoticed.

“Watching on film, you get to know how good a player really is,” said Crusaders forward Thomas Orr. “But still, watching them and seeing them play is a whole different game from actually guarding (Workman). He’s a really good all-around player and I respect his game a lot.”

His teammates say they have come to expect as much from Workman.

“Willy is incredible,” point guard Aaron Toomey said. “He has been the heart and soul of this team for the whole year. He comes up huge in big moments.”

The smooth 6-foot-6 lefty can now set his eyes on the future. He spent two weeks playing in Europe with a team of Division III players last summer, playing well enough to generate some interest for next season.

Such a prospect hardly seemed likely just a few years ago following surgeries on both hips that prevented him from playing basketball at all during his junior or senior years of high school. Doctors assured him at the time that he would never play again.

Workman made initial plans to attend the University of South Carolina when he suddenly began feeling better. He spent a postgraduate year at Deerfield Academy before ending up at Amherst.

An excellent offensive player, Workman quickly realized that he needed to expand his game in college.

“I had to learn to play good defense, because that was my way to get on the floor, which was very important to me,” he said.

Now, the same boy who grew up busing tables at Jake’s No Frills Dining, the Northampton eatery owned by his father, might be good enough to play professionally.

It’s all pretty heady stuff for a local guy whose love for the game was honed at Hixon’s summer camps.

“I probably put his kids through college,” Workman joked.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this story.

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