When looking at Amir Williams, some see what should be the starting center for the Ohio State basketball team. Others, meanwhile, see a sophomore with considerable potential that has yet to piece everything together.
But it’s only Thad Matta’s vision that matters, and the Buckeyes’ head coach sees more of the latter – a capable player that has stepped up in big moments during his short career, but still hasn’t played to his full ability in all of his moments on the floor.
And what the coach has witnessed this season – both in practice and in games – is what has culminated in the decision to make Williams the Buckeyes’ reserve center behind senior Evan Ravenel.
“Coach talked to me just about being consistent,” Williams said Friday as the No. 10 Buckeyes (9-2) prepare for Saturday’s game against Chicago State in Value City Arena. “He says I have times where I just tune out and I don’t play or am lackadaisical.
“He just asked me to be more consistent, not just playing only in the big games but playing in games like Chicago State. Just being more reliable and playing throughout the whole season no matter who our opponent is.”
Those results are what Matta wants before Williams becomes a fixture in Ohio State’s starting lineup, particularly because the head coach has seen glimmers of the productivity from the 6-11, 250-pound sophomore that he consistently expects out of his starting center.
Williams’ most memorable moment dates back to Ohio State’s 77-70 win over Syracuse in last year’s Elite Eight game in the NCAA Tournament. With superstar big man Jared Sullinger and Ravenel saddled with foul trouble in the first half, Williams put in a nine-minute performance in which he scored three points, grabbed four rebounds and posted two blocks.
It was that spurt that helped Ohio State prevent Syracuse from going on a much-needed run in the first half, which eventually preserved the Buckeyes’ second Final Four appearance in eight years under Matta. It was also the performance that helped experience-less Williams assert himself as the player most onlookers expected would make the seamless transition into OSU’s starting lineup this season.
That hasn’t happened yet, and Williams has an idea of what’s holding him back.
“I believe it’s just a mental thing, just brining it every night,” he said. “Sometimes I do feel like I just clock out or something like that. It’s just a mental thing. I have to go out there and be prepared, just have a routine in the way I approach every game or so. I feel like it’s getting better than what it was at the beginning of the season.”
Against top competition, Williams doesn’t seem to struggle as much being mentally prepared, and last weekend’s 74-66 loss to then-No. 9 Kansas serves as the latest example. Though Jayhawks big man Jeff Withey is considered one of the best in the paint in all of college basketball, Williams proved to be a force to deal with on his way to six points and eight rebounds in 20 minutes.
The youthful struggles for Williams are still there – he has to work on having stronger hands when loose balls are in his realm, gain better positioning in the paint and finish at the rim more consistently – but the foundation for OSU’s next difference-maker in the paint seems to be there.
For now, Matta will stick with Ravenel in the starting lineup as Williams’ continues to mature. Ravenel, though no replacement for Sullinger, is a more experienced player that has earned the head coach’s trust through 10 games this season.
Williams, however, could be right on Ravenel's heels for that starting spot if he continues to improve the way Matta expects. Realizing he's not good enough yet to overlook any of his opponents could be the biggest milestone in Williams' development.
“I just seemed more focused in the big games this year,” Williams admitted. “It’s a big opponent, so why not be ready for those games? But I have to be ready for a Chicago State tomorrow. It’s something that I just have to really just key in, no matter who go out and play.
“The Big Ten is a dominant conference in my opinion. We’re going to play against consistent big men who can score the ball and run the floor. I just feel like I have to bring it. I don’t have a choice but to bring it throughout the whole Big Ten season. It’ll definitely help me going into the Big Ten.”
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