Never underestimate the importance of momentum in college basketball. An important defensive stop and a big bucket can lead to an avalanche of points and an eruption of noise that can turn a game around in a matter of minutes. When this occurs in front of a ruckus crowd in an historic arena, it can even shake the soul of steely eyed veteran team.
The Williams Arena fear factor was missing for several years as the Gophers slowly drifted into basketball oblivion. The enthusiasm, noise, and shaking catwalks have returned to The Barn since the arrival of Tubby Smith, but not at quite the level of the best years under Clem Haskins (and yes, for you old timers, Jim Dutcher, Bill Musselman, etc.)
Now Tubby Smith has that missing piece to turn the noise up to eleven. His name is Rodney Williams, and he may be the most athletic player in America. He can do things in the air that have never been done in Williams Arena without trampolines involved. He will be a star, eventually. We just need to be patient.
How he became a Gopher
Rodney Williams is like most elite basketball players that come out of Minnesota. He wanted to stay home and play for the Gophers, and he wanted to play for an elite team. During those quiet years in The Barn, local players had to make a choice between the two. Some stayed (Rick Rickert) and some left (Cole Aldrich). The #6 small forward in his class could have played anywhere, but with the resurgence of the Gophers, Williams didn’t need to decide, and along with childhood friend Royce White, the two elite players are the best local duo to play for the home town team in recent memory.
Williams averaged 15.5 points and 7.6 rebounds per game during his senior year. Due to his height, or really the lack of height of his high school teammates, he spent most of his career playing out of position on the inside.
Why to be excited
Oh where to begin…
Rodney Williams is an athletic freak. No coach, no matter how talented, no matter how many games he has won, can teach a player to move as fast, get off the ground as quickly, leap as high, or grow as long was Williams. Give a coach like Tubby Smith four years to mold that natural ability, and the results will be scary for the rest of Big Ten.
Why to keep expectations in check
The talent is endless, but also endlessly raw. Williams can run and jump with the best in the country. Basketball is more than running and jumping though, and Williams is considerably less skilled in the half court. His shooting can be inconsistent, and the dribbling occasionally sloppy. On the defensive end, his athleticism helps him get away with a lot of mistakes, and his height helped him dominate the paint against shorter opponents. In the Big Ten he still may be able to out jump his opponents, but they’ll be able to out muscle him and take advantage of his inevitable freshman mistakes.
Most likely role
Williams will probably be the odd man out for the better part of his freshman year. The Gophers are stacked with long, athletic small forwards. When he does get his minutes, it will be when the team needs an momentum play or to play defense against bigger guards that are pushing around Lawrence Westbrook.