Williams maintains Tigers inside presence


JANUARY 2015 – Johnathan Williams III, one of the few returning Missouri regulars, hopes to bring rebounding skill and tough inside play to coach Kim Anderson’s young squad.

Only Williams and forward Ryan Rosburg return as starters, as the roster includes six freshmen and three transfers. The Tigers bring back just four players back from Frank Haith’s final season in Columbia.

Williams was one of the SEC’s top freshman last year, providing fearsome defense with 57 blocked shots, ranking eighth nationally at 1.6 per game, and 11th in the league with 227 rebounds, which was the fourth-best rebounding season for freshmen in school history.  The blocks rank second for a Missouri freshman and fifth-best overall.

Knowing he would be expected to become an even more assertive player, Williams, a 6-9, 225-pound sophomore from Memphis, has spent a lot of time in the gym and the weight room.

“I’ve been working on my game,” Williams said. “I’ve been working on my shot but I didn’t want to forget about my rebounding. I wanted to keep a balance and not focus on one thing. I wanted to improve on defense and offense.”College-SponsorThe focus has helped him continue his inside presence as he leads the Tigers with 70 rebounds (6.4 per game) and nine blocked shots (0.8 per game) through the first 11 games, and has recorded at least eight rebounds in each December contest.“Rebounding is about effort, all-out effort,” Williams said. “It’s about knowing where the ball might go and constantly moving around, not forgetting to block out and going to the glass.”

A focus on being more aggressive on the offense end has helped him become more of a scoring threat. He leads Mizzou with 137 points (12.5 per game) and has scored in double-figures in nine of the first 11 games. Williams ranks 10th in the SEC in rebounding and is also in the top 20 in scoring and blocked shots.

Work in the weight room has helped him stay strong on the boards and get to the free throw line more often, where he has improved from 56.5 percent last year to 67.2 percent this year. Improving free-throw success was one of Williams’ goals.

“I’m just shooting the ball higher, snapping the wrist,” he said.

Still, he acknowledges that he has a lot of work to do.

“I want to work on my free throws,” Williams said. “Being stronger and finishing at the rim; being more of a vocal leader, on and off the court; talking more.”

Williams believes it is important for him to be a strong leader with a young team.

“The main thing is to change the program,” he said in defining the differences with coach Anderson’s program.  “We have to be good kids on and off the court and be role models and also be aggressive.”

Being “good kids” on the court may not necessarily be what Anderson really wants, though, as the coach would like to see Williams show a more aggressive side.  The tougher approach is something the soft spoken Williams would also like to see.

“We have to be a bit more tough,” he said. “We try to go hard each and every day and just play hard.”

Williams likes what he has seen from Anderson and is impressed with a freshman class that brings ample talent to Columbia.

“They all bring different things to the team,” Williams said.  “Montaque (Gill-Caesar) is very athletic.  Namon (Wright) is a really good shooter.  Tremaine (Isabell) is so quick.  They all bring different things.”

The tougher approach is also shown in the Tigers non-conference schedule, which has seen them take on third-ranked Arizona, Purdue, Oklahoma, Xavier and Illinois, plus upstart UMKC in the season opener.  While Mizzou has lost each of these games and are still searching for a signature win, they have continued to improve, only losing to the Illini on a buzzer beater.

Anderson praised the Tigers after their close loss to Illinois, and singled out Williams’ toughening demeanor as a bright spot.

“I thought he did a great job,” Anderson said.  “He’s not there yet, obviously, but he wanted that sucker when it was on the line.  He wanted the ball.”

Williams led Mizzou with 15 points and eight rebounds, the fifth straight game he has topped Tigers’ scorers and rebounders.  He has been the squad’s top scorer and rebounder in six of the first 11 games.

The early tests are important as Mizzou gears up for a difficult conference schedule, which includes a pair of games against top-ranked Kentucky. It is a schedule that Williams thinks will help the Tigers better handle league competition.

“I think we’re going to match up pretty well,” he said. “We’re playing hard teams now to compete in the SEC.  It’s good for the long run.  We’ll be ready for anybody, whoever steps on the court.”

Article by Marc Bowman

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