CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Kenny Williams III is known for his 3-point range. Just don’t refer to North Carolina’s newest guard as simply an “outside shooter.”
“I really don’t like that label,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I know that’s what I do best and that’s how I made my name. But it’s like when you use that, you pigeon-hole a person. I’m not just an outside shooter.”
Regardless, it’s a term the freshman will hear often as the season approaches. He’s joining an experienced and deep team that will be a Final Four favorite behind all-Atlantic Coast Conference returnees Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson, yet one whose struggle to find consistent 3-point shooting last season was its most glaring weakness.
That puts the 6-foot-3, 166-pound rookie in position to earn a key role right away.
Williams’s aversion to the outside-shooter label drew a chuckle from Tar Heels coach Roy Williams. Maybe that’s because the Hall of Famer has preached that idea, too.
The first time he saw Williams, the coach said, the guard showed off his range by hitting several 3-pointers in a spring all-star event. But what stood out was how Williams took a charge. Then another.
“What I’ve told him all along is, ‘You are a young man who can really shoot but you are a basketball player,” Roy Williams said. “So that’s what I promoted to him, which I think he embraces that idea because he is a basketball player, he’s very unselfish, he makes the right play — the simple play — and the doesn’t mind guarding somebody and taking the charge.”
The Midlothian, Virginia, native originally signed with VCU under Shaka Smart, but got his release after Smart left for Texas.
That gave the Tar Heels a second shot at Williams, who chose UNC instead of Virginia, Florida and Michigan. He’ll join a crowded perimeter that includes Paige, junior Nate Britt and sophomores Justin Jackson, Joel Berry II and Theo Pinson.
Williams shot 38 percent from 3-point range and hit 152 3-pointers for his high school career. Troy Manns, Williams’s high school coach, described Williams as a good shooter who embraces a team system and shares the ball.
“He has that competitive edge to him where regardless of what we’re doing, he wants to win,” said Manns, coach at L.C. Bird High in Richmond, Virginia. “He’s a yes sir, no sir kid, the most polite kid in the world off the court. On the court, he’ll tear your head off to beat you.”
Kenny Williams Jr., Williams’ father, said the work to develop his son’s shot started early. He said Kenny III started shooting on a 10-foot goal around age 4, when he could do little more than heave the ball with both hands just to get it near the rim.
He also said his son got along so well with peers that he nicknamed him “the Governor” and jokingly said he would make a great politician, down to helping opponents up off the turf after knocking them down in youth football.
It all makes him a good fit for UNC’s veteran-led roster.
“I’ll tell you who he is: I talked to him when they had a practice and my immediate thing to ask as a parent is, ‘Did you score?’” Kenny Jr. said. “He said, ‘Nah, man, I wasn’t really trying to score. I’m just trying to get an understanding of the offense right now.’
“That was a great answer for me because if you throw somebody else in that situation, they want to show guys what they can do. What he wants to do is make sure he has a full understanding of what’s expected of him from play to play, and then the scoring will come as he learns to play the right way.”
The approach explains why Kenny III sounds at ease about transitioning to college, even if he’ll have to embrace that reputation as an outside shooter.
“It might sound weird or crazy, but I don’t feel any pressure,” he said. “I know that’s probably what they’ll really count on me to do so. I’m going to do it to the best of my ability and see what we get from there.”
Kenny Williams More Than A Shooter
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