SAVANNAH, Ga. (WSAV) — New Hampstead boys basketball coach Jeffery Williams described shooting a basketball for the first time after suffering a stroke. His journey back to the hardwood floor is one of perseverance, strength and resilience.
“I remember coming in the gym with a couple of the players and they threw me the ball and tried to shoot it,” Williams said, “but because of the stroke throwing my balance, it fell straight in the paint. The kids on the sideline were like, ‘Coach, you trash.’ They didn’t understand that was a win for me to be able to get the ball out of my hand and get it toward the basket.”
February 10, 2023, at around 2 a.m. started a long day for the Williams family. One they will never forget.
“The doctor told me if I hadn’t been awake and had the stroke in my sleep,” Williams said, “I possibly would have passed away. Not only did I have a stroke I had COVID at the same time. I was in pretty bad shape when I got to the hospital. Once I got there, my heart rate was up. They gave me some medication to try and lower my heart rate and that caused me to have a bad reaction. So I almost died again.”
He continued, “Loud ringing noise in my ear then, I was speaking with my wife. I knew something was wrong because when I was talking to her, I could see it on her face that it didn’t sound clear.”
Williams said he asked his wife for some water, but once he drank the water he could not keep it down.
“But me being a man,” Williams said, “I was like I’ll sleep it off. So, I went to sleep and I woke up. The room wasn’t spinning anymore, but I couldn’t focus. I really couldn’t talk in complete sentences. I couldn’t stand up. I couldn’t walk. So I knew then that I probably had a stroke.”
Coach Williams said his first thought was not to alarm his son and two daughters. He wanted them to have a normal day. His son RJ recounts what he remembers from the day.
“I kept asking my mom what’s wrong,” Freshman Jeffery Willams, Jr. said, “They were like, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ So I went to the game. When I got back home from the game, I called him and he wasn’t home. He called me back and told me what happened. I was sad knowing that someone that I’ve loved a lot could have died.”
His next concern was his team. He wanted them focused on Savannah High’s opponent that night. So, he instructed his assistants not to let the team know of his condition.
“They didn’t tell me what had happened,” said Antoine Youmans. “I didn’t know if he was dead or alive. I didn’t know if he was in surgery or not or anything. I just knew he had a stroke. I know how hard that is. One of my people in my family had a stroke and it messed them up pretty bad.”
Coach Williams was in the hospital for two weeks. Then, he worked on building muscle strength for six weeks. Williams walked back inside New Hampstead High School on April 10, 2023.
“It was tough because everyone wants to talk to you because they haven’t seen you,” Williams said. “I remember writing something on the board and being so excited about it and taking a picture and sending it home like, ‘Look, I did it.’ Because I remember, I couldn’t write anything.”
Then, Coach Williams said made a surprising statement. He said having a stroke saved his life.
“It allowed me to change the things I was doing,” Williams said. “My eating habits. I was always on the go doing everything for everyone else besides myself.”
Coach Williams said the long-term effects are he is still working to improve his speech and motor skills but has not suffered permanent paralysis.