Nino Williams doesn’t want to jinx himself or the Kansas State basketball team, so he is hesitant to make bold predictions.
But he admits this much: His playing style will be different this season.
“I will shoot a lot more threes and be more aggressive offensively,” Williams said. “This summer I worked out a lot. And ever since practice started, coach (Bruce) Weber has been telling me to stay aggressive. I’m looking forward to that. I can make threes. Obviously, I was kind of hesitant in the past, but this year I am going to let them fly.”
It is curious to hear Williams speak so confidently about that aspect of his game, considering he didn’t attempt a three last season and is two for 13 for his career. Given the way his basketball career has played out — a roller coaster featuring two downs for every up — he understandably fears expecting too much.
Remember, the 6-foot-5 senior forward was the highest-rated member of his recruiting class, arriving from Leavenworth in 2010 as a four-star prospect ready to make an impact. But concussions forced him off the floor. When he returned, he grew tired of Frank Martin’s coaching style and planned to transfer until Weber was hired and persuaded him to stay on at a new position — the stretch four, a hybrid forward role that allows him to score both inside and on the perimeter.
The move clearly suits Williams, but he has never had the proper combination of health and lineup versatility to consistently prosper. After starting the first nine games as a redshirt sophomore, he got hurt and lost his spot to Shane Southwell. Last year, K-State’s roster featured so little height that he had to play the role of power forward, rarely stepping outside and never taking threes.
That shouldn’t be a problem this season. With new big men Stephen Hurt and Brandon Bolden — both 6-11 — bringing much needed size to the frontcourt, Williams should have the freedom to stretch the floor.
Could this finally be the year things line up for him?
“I hope so,” Weber said. “He was excited about the four and he is good at the four. If he was 6-7, he would be a horse; it’s unreal how good he would be. But he is so rugged and so versatile and now he has worked as hard as he ever has this summer trying to get his shooting better and working on his dribbling so he can get to the basket. He makes practice better, because he goes so hard. I really hope he has a great senior year. He deserves it.”
Teammates think Williams is poised for a breakout.
Maine transfer Justin Edwards calls Williams “an and-one machine,” because he fights through fouls to make shots in practice. Bolden, a Georgetown transfer, says he hates guarding him.
“We have always known that Nino is a really good shooter,” Bolden said. “We are challenging him more to step out and shoot the three and just be more aggressive on the offensive end. He has been doing that, and whatever else he needs to do — driving to the basket or pulling up and making shots. He is looking really good.”
It is hard for Williams to keep a straight face when he hears praise from his teammates.
He has been at K-State longer than anyone on the roster, yet he’s never averaged more than 6.2 points, 3.5 rebounds or 16.3 minutes. He’s had 20-point games and double-doubles, too, and he closed out last season in the starting lineup. But no one has ever looked up to him before.
“It’s different knowing it’s your last go-around,” Williams said. “You just have to understand the task at hand, your role and your position. We have got a lot of young, good guys, and K-State is going to be good for the next few years. But this is my last go-around, so I’m pushing myself in practice and trying to lead by example.”
If Williams can provide leadership, as well as three-pointers, his up-and-down time at K-State could come to the successful conclusion he is hesitant to discuss.
“I don’t know how things will turn out, but I’m happy with the situation I am in now,” Williams said. “I wouldn’t say I have been through a lot. I would just say everything happens for a reason.
“College basketball is a business. Coaches come and go. Players come and go. I’m just glad I stayed and have this opportunity.”