CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – For a player billed as a perimeter shooter coming out of high school, if for no other reason than a lack of other high-profile attributes, Kenny Williams has emerged as a fan favorite in short order due to his effort, above all else.
UNC is only three games into its 2016-17 season and it’s already commonplace to see Williams, a sophomore wing, diving for loose balls, battling for rebounds and taking charges. It started in the postseason last spring, although it hasn’t taken long for the Midlothian, Va. product to set an expectation for when he enters a game. There will be tenacity, there will be passion, and there will be defense.
It all stems from one intangible: effort.
"That's all it is,” Williams said earlier this week. “Just come in and give all that you can on the court for the time that you're on the court, and whatever happens, happens… If you play with effort, things will start to go your way. Shots will start going in. You will start to get more steals and you will start to get more fast break layups, so I think effort brings a lot of positivity to the game.”
Oftentimes observers pick up a stat sheet to qualify a player’s performance, looking for statistical evidence to corroborate their visual intake. Effort needs no such confirmation. It’s apparent to everyone watching and it leaves no room for confusion.
“He just goes out there and plays hard and plays with effort,” junior guard Joel Berry said. “That’s all Coach wants.”
That’s not to say Williams’s play doesn’t scratch the score sheet. He’s averaging 5.7 points, 5.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 1.3 steals per game thus far, including a strong line against Chattanooga that drew praise from his head coach.
“Four-for-seven, six rebounds, 11 points, five assists, one turnover, and three steals,” Williams said while looking over the box score. “That's a Danny Green kind of stat sheet."
The inspired play has yielded compliments and admiration, which in turn has elevated his confidence.
“I talked to him a lot about, ’you have a little bit more freedom this year, so just go out there and play your game,’” junior wing Justin Jackson said. “’Do what Coach tells you to do, but don’t overthink things, because that’s when you really get into trouble.’ For him, it’s just confidence. He’s the type of guy that’s not going to do many things wrong, anyway, so you can live with some of the mess ups he might have because he’s going to try to make up for it on some other play.”
For his part, Williams described his confidence as “skyrocketing” as he battles with senior Nate Britt for the two-guard spot in Theo Pinson’s absence.
“Even in high school, I’ve never been this confident in myself,” Williams said, “so I’m looking to keep that going.”
So are Roy Williams, his teammates and the Tar Heel faithful.
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