In the Nick of Time

Even in street clothes, Nick Williams found ways to contribute during a transfer season in 2009-10. Now, even as a sophomore, he's a veteran leader poised to contribute for a team that desperately needs his minutes.

Nick Williams, dressed in an Ole Miss basketball t-shirt and gym shorts, made the rounds inside the basketball practice facility Thursday.

He joked with rising sophomore Reginald Buckner, the team's lone front-court presence these days, before chatting with some assistant coaches. He was confident, but unassuming, deciding to carry himself as a veteran leader, despite the fact he's entering only his second season at Ole Miss.

He knew many of the questions he was sure to be asked minutes later.

Terrico White, the SEC Freshman of the Year in 2009, decided to remain in the NBA Draft Wednesday. He's hired an agent, meaning he officially won't be returning to Ole Miss for what would be his junior season. He joined Murphy Holloway and Eniel Polynice, who also left the program since season's end.

"It was a surprise, but that just comes with the territory. People are going to leave every year," Williams said. "That's just basketball. We just have to come in every day and fight hard knowing that those guys are gone. Some people might have to step up early than they thought they'd have to."

Williams is one of them.

In less than two years, he's already established himself as a vocal leader. As he puts it, a season spent on the sideline due to NCAA transfer rules quickly changed his perspective – a coach's perspective.

Nick Williams

"It was kind of hard. Not playing for a whole year and just seeing the guys during the game and knowing I can help the team, I felt helpless," he said. "But it's a new year now. I'm happy to be getting started right now."

A 6-foot-4, 225-pound guard, Williams originally signed with Marquette in the fall of 2007.

But when Tom Crean, then the head coach of the Golden Eagles, left for Indiana, Williams was granted a special waiver and packed his bags for Bloomington.

He made an immediate impact. He appeared in all 31 games, with 29 starts, while ranking fourth on the team in scoring with 8.9 points per game. His specialty was rebounding, where he added 4.5 per game in 23.0 minutes played.

Still, Williams was concerned with his role in the program after the Hoosiers ended a forgettable 6-25 season. The ultimate decision to transfer wasn't easy. Actually, Williams, who almost always seems jovial and energetic, heavily weighed the pros and cons.

Ole Miss, Alabama and Missouri were his possible landing spots. His only visit, however, was to Oxford.

"I knew it was going to be tough (sitting out), but I didn't actually realize it until the games started," he said. "In the games we lost, I felt like we should've won. Obviously, I felt like I could help the team in some ways, but I couldn't. It was hard watching the team go through some stuff knowing I could help."

Ole Miss won 24 games last season, but failed to make the NCAA Tournament for the eighth straight year. Williams, meanwhile, was a bystander. He was allowed to practice in the fall, but was relegated to the end of the bench when games were played.

He helped all he could. An ultra-competitive type, he challenged his teammates daily in practice. He wanted to make them better.

Nick Williams

"We have a lot of drills to make practices competitive," assistant coach Michael White said. "He hates, hates, hates losing any drill. I don't know that I could have said that about anybody else on the team (last season), other than (point guard) Chris (Warren)."

"Every day I try to come in, work hard and be a leader," Williams added. "I'm always talking. If you come in the gym, I'll be the loudest person in the gym."

He worked hard, and continues to work hard, on every aspect of his game. He's continuing to change his body in an attempt to become more athletic. His offense still needs work, too. White would like to see Williams shoot the ball with more consistency.

"He brings a lot to the table that even some of the most talented guys we had didn't possess," White said. "His ability to really rebound, communicate, follow the scouting report… he's got a good basketball IQ. I think his biggest asset is how competitive he is."

Williams ended the interview the same way it started: positive. He'd rather not focus on roster turnover, no matter how drastic. It's unwavering self-assurance, if you will.

"My energy is my biggest thing. I play hard all the time and light a fire under guys sometimes," he said. "This team feeds off of energy. That's what I bring the most."

He's anxious to get back to the floor, but he's not setting any personal goals. He just wants to win more games, "more than 24 games," to be exact.

The Rebels will be a guard-oriented team, considering they return, among others, Warren, Zach Graham and Terrence Henry.

According to Williams, "there's a legitimate chance" of reaching to the NCAA Tournament, with his ability to rebound helping offset a depleted front court.

"The big thing for me is to come in and continue to be the same guy that I was this year – talk, be a leader and lead by example," he said. "If a person sees me slack off, they may think it's OK for them to slack off. I'm one of the leaders on this team, but this has to be a collective effort. We have to play like we're the underdogs.

"It's going to be a good year for us."

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