Hearing Voices

Nick Williams can hardly contain himself. After sitting out a year due to NCAA transfer rules, his debut season at Ole Miss is just around the corner.

Andy Kennedy is a vocal coach. It suits him.

He's loud in practice, unafraid to let one of his players know when he approves or disapproves. It's his way. Kennedy treats each member of his team the same. Be it on the practice courts or during games, he demands full effort and dedication.

Usually his voice carries no matter the setting. It's almost always the loudest in the room. But sometimes Kennedy's animated baritone needs some backup. Enter Nick Williams, the decorated Indiana transfer now eligible to play this season. He is equally vibrant, his leadership in perfect accord with his head coach.

"Usually when you come into practice, my voice will be the loudest," Kennedy said. "His voice will be the second loudest."

Williams fits the mold of a Kennedy player. He's no-nonsense, committed to the task of daily improvement and not wasting time. As Kennedy would attest, Williams' versatility is his calling card. He's a winner, a competitor.

"Nick Williams is kind of an old-school player," Kennedy said.

Old-school players are hard to find these days. But for Williams, Kennedy's description suits him to a tee. He isn't afraid to do the dirty work, mainly because he keeps his team first. He wants to win. It's all that matters to him.

"I'm just a tough player," Williams said. "I get all the loose rebounds and dive on the floor. When guys see me doing that, they see a winning attitude. They try and copy those same things."

Nick Williams

Ole Miss fans don't know Williams yet. But his teammates do.

Williams has been in Oxford for over a year, toiling in practices and the team's strength and conditioning program. He was forced to sit out last season due to NCAA transfer rules, yet still managed to establish himself as a leader in the locker room.

"I see a different team this year from last year," he said. "I think it's a more close-knit team. We come together on a lot of stuff and talk about a lot of stuff, like how we think the year's going to go and how this is probably one of the best teams we've been on."

He watched attentively from the bench last season. Ole Miss won 24 games and lost 11. The Rebels finished 9-7 in Southeastern Conference play, won the SEC West, and advanced to the semifinals of the National Invitation Tournament in New York.

But for Williams, last season's successes could have been greater. He wanted more, though he felt helpless while relegated to the bench. The goal, he said, was and remains the NCAA Tournament. It's what this team, which includes six newcomers, is striving for.

"We had enough talent last year to make it to the NCAA Tournament," he said. "I think guys know how to get to that level now. I see it every day. We're pushing harder and harder to get to that level."

Outside expectations aren't particularly high for Ole Miss in 2010-11. The team lost undeniable talent, most notably Terrico White and Murphy Holloway. Eniel Polynice's role was significantly diminished following a midseason suspension, but he did have experience, having been at Ole Miss for three seasons.

Williams is fine with the underdog card. This team, according to the 6-foot-4, 225-pounder, doesn't concern itself with outside distractions. He believes in the workmanlike players he practices alongside each and every day.

"We're fine with everybody putting us as the underdog," Williams said. "We like that role. We don't have that big target on our backs, so we can just come out and play free and loosely.

Nick Williams

"We can show people we can play, too. It doesn't matter who we lost. We're still coming in and working just as hard as everybody else. We know, as a team, what we can do. We'll be able to show that when the season comes."

Like his head coach, Williams is optimistic about what lies ahead. Ask around, from any player or coach, and the prevailing sentiment is the same. This is a mature, unselfish group. Excitement for the upcoming season isn't lost on anyone.

"We work hard every day," Williams said. "We know to get to where we want to get to, it's going to be a total team effort. Maybe not so much last year, but this year, team is first. That's what we think about every day."

Williams may be the most excited of all. Actually, he'll say as much.

The last time he was in a game-like situation was while at Indiana, when the Hoosiers endured a forgettable 6-25 season in 2008. Williams appeared in all 31 games that year, 29 starts, while ranking fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game.

"I knew it was going to be tough, but I didn't think it was going to be as tough as it was, actually (sitting out)," he said. "It was really tough, because I thought I could help contribute to helping the team win. I kept it inside, but I didn't let it get me down. I just took it in stride every day knowing that sooner or later I was going to get to play."

He has the itch again. He knows his debut season is just around the corner. Time can go at an almost glacial pace when not allowed to entertain one's passion. And Williams is the ultra-competitive, go-getter type.

Sitting still has never worked for him.

"I come in with an edge every day, trying to get the guys going," Williams said. "I haven't played in a whole year. I'm ready to get at it."

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