Ohio State men's basketball: Amir Williams says he’s ready to play with purpose
Ohio State junior center Amir Williams, left, is being counted on by coach Thad Matta “to have more of a presence to plug the middle for us.”
One thing might not necessarily portend another, but if Amir Williams’ play this season turns out to be anything like his handshake was a couple of weeks ago, Ohio State fans just might have to give him a hand.
They were disappointed last season when Williams, a 6-foot-11 former McDonald’s All-America center, did not play more like the former McDonald’s All-American he replaced, NBA first-round draft pick Jared Sullinger.
The strong handshake Williams shared during the Buckeyes’ media day on Oct. 10 was evidence, he said, of a new attitude he’s taking into his junior season.
“To become more dominant and more aggressive,” he said, “become that inside presence that we didn’t have much of last year.”
The Buckeyes’ only public exhibition game is next Sunday against Walsh at Value City Arena. Their regular-season opener, also at home, is Nov. 9 against Morgan State.
But Ohio State coaches and Williams got their first chance to measure him against commensurate competition yesterday, when the Buckeyes scrimmaged West Virginia at the Schottenstein Center. Per NCAA rules, the scrimmage was open only to the two teams, statistics were not kept and those present were prohibited from publicizing details.
If nothing else, though, it was a different look for Williams, who in the past two months has had only 6-8 teammate Trey McDonald to go against in practice. The Buckeyes have only two post players on the roster, having not added one in their two most recent recruiting classes.
Coach Thad Matta has said he plans to continue playing some with a smaller, guards-and-forwards lineup that, late last season, helped carry the Buckeyes to the brink of a second straight Final Four appearance. But he won’t be able to use it exclusively, not in a brawny conference like the Big Ten, in which the best teams pride themselves on denying opponents access to the basket.
Williams blocked 50 shots in 37 games last season, tied for the third-best per-game average (1.4) among Big Ten players. Along with that, though, “We need him to have more of a presence to plug the middle for us,” Matta said.
Williams and Evan Ravenel, now playing professionally in Bulgaria, combined to split 33 minutes a game almost evenly last season. Williams’ minutes almost certainly will increase, and he is prepared for it, he said, having gained strength and reducing his body fat during the offseason. He said he weighs between 240 and 250 pounds.
“I think Amir is probably in the best shape of his life,” Matta said.
“The biggest thing that I am on Amir about, and what this team needs, is Amir can’t play comfortable, he can’t play in a comfort zone . … from the standpoint of pushing himself and making plays.”
To facilitate that, Matta said he could use Williams in shorter shifts, like a hockey player. “Maybe it’s a shorter burst, a three-minute or four-minute segment, get a break, and then go again,” he said.
Sam Thompson, a fellow junior, said Williams’ attitude adjustment was noticeable during offseason workouts.
“Amir’s a competitor. Amir saw some of the deficiencies he had last season and he really made it a point to work on them,” Thompson said. “It’s shown. He and Trey McDonald have really gotten after it since the end of last season. I’m excited to see what they do.”
And if he doesn’t see enough?
“I’ll make him meaner,” Thompson said. “I’ll be the guy that makes Amir meaner.”
Williams said assistant coach Dave Dickerson told him during the offseason that he did not play as aggressively last season as Dickerson knows he is capable of playing.
“He told me to go out there and play with a purpose. That’s going to be my attitude, to go out there and play with a purpose, whether it’s being mean, being aggressive or doing whatever,” Williams said.
“That’s what we’re going to need the whole season if we want to win the national championship and get what we want.”