CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – In his seventh practice as a North Carolina Tar Heel, freshman guard Kenny Williams found himself as the lone defender in a 2-on-1 transition drill.
The late addition to UNC’s 2015 recruiting class is best known for his 3-point marksmanship – he made 152 career treys in high school – which has partially obscured his willingness to sacrifice his body on the defensive end.
Williams backpedaled into the paint as forwards Brice Johnson and Isaiah Hicks passed back and forth working their way down the court, seemingly picking up speed as they approached the tall but thin rookie attempting to stop their fast break.
As Johnson received a pass left of the lane, Williams slid into position on the block and tried to draw a charge against a player that outweighed him by 50 pounds.
Troy Manns, who coached Williams at L.C. Bird High School in Chesterfield, Va., describes his former player as a cerebral kid that is known for knocking down perimeter shots, but who also took more than 40 charges in his senior season.
“The first game I ever saw him play he made five threes and took three charges,” head coach Roy Williams said at UNC’s media day last week. “That sort of catches your eye.”
The UNC coaching missed in their first attempt at recruiting Williams, as he opted for Shaka Smart and VCU. Once Smart left the Commonwealth for Texas in April, Williams ending up choosing the Tar Heels over in-state Virginia.
Williams, who shot 44 percent from 3-point range on 119 attempts on the EYBL circuit last year, will factor into UNC’s thin rotation on the perimeter as a known outside scoring threat, although his game is more rounded than that of a simple shooter.
“What he’s shown us so far is he’s not just a shooter; he’s a good basketball player,” Williams said. “He can do a lot of things other than just shoot the ball.”
After a summer of pickup ball, his teammates have a similar opinion of the freshman that owns his high school’s single-game record with 50 points.
“He can shoot,” sophomore guard Joel Berry said. “He can shoot the ball really well. And then on defense, he likes to get up in the guy, and that’s one thing we like to put emphasis on, trying to get up into people and make them turn over the ball. He does a great job of that.”
A summer working with UNC strength and conditioning coach Jonas Sahratian has also proven beneficial. Williams has added nearly 10 pounds and now weighs 175 pounds.
“I don’t think you guys saw him when he first got here,” Berry said. “He was pretty skinny. He’s put on some weight this summer, so I think he’ll be able to [defend]. Justin [Jackson] was able to do the same thing. He came in really skinny, but he was able to get out there and compete with the guys.”
Williams projects as a two-guard and will likely share time at that spot with sophomore wing Theo Pinson and combo guard Marcus Paige.
(Video by J.B. Cissell)