Amir Williams Preparing for Big Opportunity
By Brandon Castel
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Watching Jared Sullinger carry the Buckeyes to a Final Four on the strength of his ailing back was a bittersweet experience for Ohio State freshman Amir Williams.
So was Sullinger’s most recent press conference.
Photo by Jim Davidson
That is where Ohio State’s star sophomore announced he will forgo his final two years of college eligibility for a chance at the NBA, and the life Sullinger has always dreamed of.
It’s the same life Williams has wanted since he was big enough to pick up a basketball, and Sullinger’s early departure means the big man from Detroit (Mich.) Country Day will have a huge opportunity to step into the spotlight next season.
“Amir always had talent. It's just unfortunately he (was) playing behind me and Evan (Ravenel) at the time,” Sullinger said earlier this spring.
“So watch out for him next year.”
When Williams committed to the Buckeyes in November 2010, many expected he would eventually play alongside Sullinger in Ohio State’s frontcourt, not replace him. The 6-11 shot-blocker was considered to be one of the top big-man prospects in the country a year ago, but his rookie season did not go the way Williams—or many others—had expected.
“It’s been a learning experience for me this year,” Williams admitted.
“Playing behind Jared was a learning experience. I had to learn how to defend better players and there was definitely a learning curve.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
At first, it was tough for Williams to watch Sullinger and the other Buckeyes from his spot on the bench. He scored three points in 10 minutes during Ohio State’s 73-42 blowout win over Wright State in the season-opener, but Williams did not get up from his spot next to OSU head coach Thad Matta during the next game against Florida.
He averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game as a freshman, and did not even take off his warmups in seven of Ohio State’s 18 conference games in the Big Ten.
“It took its toll in the beginning of the year,” said Williams, who was one of a number of freshmen from his class who was frustrated with the lack of playing time.
“A lot of us were having a tough time with it, but Coach Matta really settled us down. We found out we were helping our teammates a lot by pushing them every day in practice. It didn’t bother us as much after that.”
In the process, Williams realized he actually had a lot to learn. He was a natural shot-blocker at the high school level, but this was a whole new ballgame at the college level.
It was going to take Williams some time to perfect his game.
“I knew coming in there was going to be a learning experience,” he said.
“The transition from high school to college is a learning experience for anyone. It’s a faster pace in college, so anyone coming in is going to have to make an adjustment.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
At 6-10 or 6-11, Williams was almost always the biggest guy on the court in high school, typically by as many as four or five inches. He towered over most opponents in the paint, and swatted away their feeble attempts with ultimate ease.
That all changed the first time Williams stepped on the floor against Sullinger, a future NBA Lottery Pick who had a year of college seasoning under his belt by the time Williams showed up in Columbus last summer.
“On offense, I didn’t play against people who were 6-8, 6-9 or 6-10 on a daily basis,” Williams said.
“Playing against him every day, and going against a guy who is my size and my height, it helped me tremendously.”
The first thing he realized was that he needed to add some bulk to his lanky frame if he was going to handle the physicality of playing in the post at the college level. Even at a svelte 265 pounds, Sullinger was pushing Williams around under the basket early in camp.
“I came in at 225 (pounds) and right now I’m 250,” Williams said during the NCAA Tournament.
“It just happened. That’s just from lifting and eating better. Going into practice every day, I could feel stronger. I could tell I was getting better at holding position in the post.”
Photo by Jim Davidson
That was something Williams had been working on with Ohio State assistant coaches Chris Jent and Dave Dickerson, who spent most of his time teaching the OSU big men the fundamentals of the game of basketball.
“They wanted me to be in a better stance on defense and be more active. On offense, I have to continue to crash the glass and work on my post my moves,” Williams said.
“We go through a lot of footwork drills and we work on finishing around the basket. It’s really important. There are a lot of situations around the basket that you don’t realize until you’re in a game. It’s important for me to use my size and strength around the basket.”
It certainly will be important next year, as the Buckeyes look to replace one of the premier big men in college basketball. Williams isn’t guaranteed to be a starter. He wasn’t even really the backup as a freshman.
That was junior Evan Ravenel, a transfer from Boston College who averaged 3.4 points and 2.2 rebounds in 10.2 minutes a night this past season. He will have one year left to help the Buckeyes, but even Ravenel saw a dramatic improvement in Williams throughout his rookie season.
“Amir’s offensive game has definitely risen from playing with Jared,” said Ravenel, who could also say the same about his own game.
“He learned a lot from him and expanded his offensive repertoire a lot this year.”
Williams scored three big points and grabbed four rebounds in Ohio State’s 77-70 win over Syracuse in the Elite Eight. He also blocked a pair of shots at the defensive end, providing important minutes off the bench while Sullinger sat with foul trouble.
“Amir getting the last nine minutes of the first half against Syracuse bodes well for his future, what he's capable of doing,” Matta said.
“I think dating back when he came back from Christmas (break), he's been tremendous in practice. And if you really look across the board, when he's gone in when it mattered, he's done a heck of a job for us.”
Now Williams will be asked to step in and do a heck of a job when it matters most.
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