On the Rebound

Nick Williams won't hide from the struggles of his debut season. He remembers what happened, of how he lost some of his confidence and got away from the parts of his game that made him such a highly-regarded addition two seasons ago.

Instead, he is building on his experiences.

Last season is months old now. The team, restocked with seven new players, is in the middle of summer workouts. His junior year at Ole Miss is a new opportunity, a new beginning.

"Just try to be more consistent," he said. "I felt that was a strong suit of mine coming into the season and I started off the season really well. It just fizzled down the end, and I just can't let bad games get to me. I've got to be a leader all the time, no matter what I'm going through. I learned that last year. During the off-season, I've been thinking about my game last year and just trying to be the same player all the time."

Williams played in all 34 games as a sophomore, including 26 starts as a wing. But he averaged only 6.2 points and 4.0 rebounds, far from the production he had hoped for.

He averaged 14.5 points in the first four games of the season, including a 21-point effort in a win over Murray State. But by the fifth game, his play shifted dramatically. He scored no more than 14 points in any other game, and failed to score double-digit points in the final 14.

Nick Williams
File Photo
He battled himself. Much of his struggles, he said, had to do with confidence, or a lack thereof.

"That was a thing that never really happened to me before," he said. "I was one of those guys that no matter what happened, I always played hard and just stayed with it.

"I tried to last year, but it just wasn't falling for me. And it happens to the best of them. I just got to get back at it. I've been working hard."

This season, he is focused on getting back to being what he has always been -- a facilitator.

Rather than settle for jump shots, he'll look to get to the basket more and create scoring opportunities for the Ole Miss front court, which, he admitted, is the team's strength.

"Not taking so many jump shots, ‘cause that's not my strong suit," Williams said. "My strong suit is getting in the lane, making good passes, making good decisions and pulling up for the mid-range jumper. Just not settling for long 3s, but getting into the lane to the big guys, because we can score down there, with (Reginald Buckner) blocking shots and Terrance (Henry) taking people off the dribble. We're going to get those guys the ball and see where they can take us."

Williams is one of the few veterans in a back court pushing forward without Chris Warren and Zach Graham, who each averaged 30 minutes and double-digit points a year ago. It's no small task, either.

Williams and sophomore Dundrecous Nelson are the leaders in the clubhouse to man two of the three starting guard spots opposite senior leader Terrance Henry in head coach Andy Kennedy's offense. But they'll be pushed by a handful of freshmen, including Jelan Kendrick and Jarvis Summers.

"Some people are going to have to step up, man. It's as simple as that. We've got to stop talking about it and we gotta step up and be men and take care of business," Williams said. "Chris gave us a lot. We always knew at the end of the day in crunch time, he was going to have the ball and he was going to make a play. We don't have that anymore.

"Dun's going to have to take control of the team and run the team. Chris did some great things for us, but he's not here anymore and we can't fall back on that. We just got to go out there and make plays for ourselves, and prove to people we can win."

Of course, Williams could fill a number of roles for the team, be it as a starter or the first player off the bench. He can play multiple positions and is arguably the team's best defender.

Nick Williams
File Photo
But whatever role he ultimately plays, Williams is aiming to stay true to himself. He's an established leader both on and off the floor. He's vocal, too, a stark contrast from the styles of Warren and Graham, the unquestioned leaders last season.

"Coach tried to make Chris and Zach speak up, but it's just not them, so it was harder for them to do those things. This year, it's different," Williams said. "I'm always loud, Terrance is loud, Reggie is ‘rah, rah.' It comes more naturally to us, so it doesn't come across forced when we do it. It doesn't come across fake, maybe. It always feels real when we speak on the court. I think that'll help us.

"It's a big thing that everybody that's projected to start is going to come in and talk to each other, because we're going to win with everybody on the court, and you're only as strong as your weakest link. That's what we got to do, stay together and push forward. That's what we say all the time."

Ole Miss finished 20-14 last season, its season ending with a first-round loss to California in the National Invitation Tournament. The Rebels haven't reached the NCAA tournament in 10 seasons. Williams believes this is the team that can change that. But he's tired of the talk. Talk, in his mind, is cheap.

"Every year, it seems like it's the same," he said. "Last year's team was tight, but I can say (this team) is a little more experienced. There's more depth this year. And everybody's pushing each other, whereas last year, certain people were already going to be in the starting lineup. This year, it's a little more up in the air. There's more minutes for other guys to get.

"We're trying to get there. My main thing this year is just stop talking about it. We talked about it all last year -- just talking, talking, talking. We just got to do it. No more excuses, we got to do it."

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