Amir Williams vs. Wichita State
Ohio State center Amir Williams will be the first to tell you that he didn't play up to expectations last year, but the junior promises to play with more force as a junior. The Buckeyes are counting on his production.
(Joshua Gunter, The Plain Dealer)
COLUMBUS, Ohio – Take a look around the Big Ten, pluck any big man you want from another team and insert him into Ohio State's starting lineup. Add Michigan State's Adreian Payne or Michigan's Mitch McGary, whoever.
What do you get? You get an Ohio State team that would likely be considered by every major college basketball expert in the country one of the favorites to capture a national championship this season.
OK – Leave Fantasy Land and return to reality.
This is a deep Ohio State team – one that begins the season ranked No. 11 in the Associated Press Poll – but it has a gaping hole in the paint right now. That hole wasn’t supposed to be there.
It has been almost three years to the day since Amir Williams committed to play for Thad Matta. November 17, 2010, was a huge day for the Ohio State basketball program because acquiring Williams meant the continuation of what has been a welcomed tradition for the Buckeyes – having dominant big men.
A former four-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American, Williams was supposed to bring his 6-foot-11 frame to Columbus and become the next difference-maker in the paint for the Buckeyes, following in the footsteps of players like Greg Oden, Kosta Koufos, B.J. Mullens, and most recently, Jared Sullinger.
But now a junior, Williams name doesn’t belong in that conversation, and during each of his first two years the Ohio State coaching staff has waited for that breakthrough from its big man that just hasn’t come yet.
“I think we’re just looking for consistency,” Matta said of Williams. “Just give us consistent, solid basketball.”
That’s a far cry from what Ohio State thought it was getting when it signed Williams. Instead, the Buckeyes have been trying to develop a big man that hasn’t shown dynamic scoring ability or the strength to fight through bodies on either end of the floor.
Let’s look at the statistics. Williams averaged 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds in 37 games for Ohio State last year, which was an underwhelming sophomore season. Comparing it to McGary’s 7.5 points and 6.3 rebounds per game as a freshman, or Payne’s 10.5 points and 7.6 boards as a junior – Williams just hasn’t panned out yet.
“I wasn't aggressive enough last year," he said.
That wasn’t the plan for Matta, but the Buckeyes still were one game away from advancing to its second Final Four in as many years last season, with Williams splitting time in the paint with senior Evan Ravenel.
However, the Buckeyes leaned on a smaller lineup consisting of only guards and forwards when they seemed to be playing at the highest level, and Williams wasn’t on the floor during those spurts.
“I think Amir would be the first to tell you that he didn’t play the best basketball he was capable of playing last year,” junior forward Sam Thompson said. “But we are all confident in what he is able to do. He looked at the things he didn’t do so well last year and worked really hard to improve on them, and I think we’ll see a better version of Amir inside the paint this year.”
There’s still hope. Though Matta will again utilize that smaller lineup to capitalize on Ohio State’s athleticism this season, Williams still has two full years of basketball to prove he can be something greater than serviceable.
And this season, Williams’ playing time is sure to increase. He and Trey McDonald are the only two big men on Ohio State’s roster, and the Buckeyes will need production inside once they reach the Big Ten season.
Williams doesn't need to be Oden, because there aren't many players of that caliber. But Williams does need to do is take a step forward, break away from his timid style of play and become a force in the paint.
"Coach has talked to me a lot about that," Williams said.
Because fantasizing about adding McGary and Payne – an native of Dayton that once was considered a real option for Ohio State in the recruiting process – can quickly turn into nightmares once the Buckeyes face Michigan and Michigan State.
“I wasn’t consistent last year,” Williams said. “Sometimes reporters said I didn’t look as motivated in some games last year, so I just made it a point of emphasis to show that I love the game of basketball and can’t be taking plays off. I have to be a dominant force in the paint, and play like that more consistently this year.
“If we want to accomplish our goals this year, this team needs me. I understand that I need to play at a high level to help us reach our goals.”