It was the sophomore guard's first start, and likely won't be his last.
IOWA CITY, Ia. — Christian Williams was relaxing at home Friday evening. It was about 5 p.m., two hours before Iowa’s exhibition against Regis University.
He felt his phone buzz next to him. A text message.
It was from Anthony Clemmons, Iowa’s second point guard last year, who now plays pro ball in Austria. A simple hype-up, “do what you do” type of text.
Clemmons had pinged Williams a week prior, too. Apparently he’d asked coaches how Williams was doing in practice and heard the sophomore guard coughed the ball up a bit that week.
“He said I can’t have that anymore,” Williams chuckled.
Well, he didn’t. At least not against a Division II opponent. Iowa beat Regis 95-73 Friday night and Williams finished with 11 points, five assists and zero turnovers. Somewhere in Austria, Clemmons must’ve been smiling.
Williams’ night drew a characteristically effusive Fran McCaffery response to the question: Did Williams take a step toward nailing down the starting point guard spot?
“Yeah, probably,” McCaffery answered after thinking for a second.
Iowa’s coach hasn’t said much concrete about his starting lineup, specifically who will start at point, so that “yeah, probably” means a lot. Williams got the nod against Regis, along with Peter Jok, Dom Uhl, Tyler Cook and Nicholas Baer. McCaffery later said he liked how that whole starting five looked, so we can assume it’ll stay that way for the opener Nov. 11.
Williams, Baer and Jok formed a suffocating full-court press in the game's early goings. But on offense, Williams barely made a peep for those first few minutes. It’s like he was nervous, like he finally got pegged as the starter and didn’t want to do anything to screw it up. Then, with 16:44 remaining in the first, he drained a mid-range jumper from the right elbow.
And there went the weight off his shoulders.
Half a minute later, the now free-flowing, 6-foot-5 sophomore found Jok for an open 3. A minute after that, he stuffed a layup attempt from Regis’ 6-foot-2 Christian Little. Near the end of the first, he rebounded a missed Regis jumper, sprint-weaved through the defense and whizzed it to Jok for a transition 3-pointer.
He hit Jok for another 3 to enter halftime with two points and three assists.
“He was finding whoever was open, the shooters,” Jok said. “He was attacking. That’s what we need from him the rest of the year.”
Assistant coach Kirk Speraw told him to be more aggressive on offense in the second half, Williams said.
Coach spoke, player listened.
He netted four of his five buckets in the latter 20 minutes. Two fastbreak layups. An acrobatic paint basket out of a halfcourt set. A late, dagger dunk off a three-quarter-court pass from Jordan Bohannon.
“You just see him in control,” Baer said. “He’s very confident, and again, he was aggressive, too. So any time that Christian Williams is going downhill against defenders he’s bigger than, that’s going to be good for us.
“I even saw it last year, too, going up against (Clemmons) and Mike (Gesell). Just utilizing his length to finish over people. When he’s aggressive, he’s a great asset for us.”
At 6-5, Williams is a tweener who’s a bit small to be a full-time off guard but perfect to be an aggressive point guard who can smother on D. Just in terms of size, think Deangelo Russell without the shooting stroke.
Turnovers are also huge for McCaffery. In 102 minutes last year, Williams committed just six of them. And the assist-to-turnover ratio is huger (let's make that a word) for McCaffery. He wasn’t happy with his team’s 16-to-15 overall ratio Friday night. He loved Williams’ 5-to-0 clip.
“Christian Williams, in particular, I thought was very good,” he said to open his postgame press conference.
It makes more sense for Bohannon to come off the bench, too. He’s 6-foot-1 and a freshman. Those are two detractors for quality perimeter defense, especially in the Big Ten. He’s going to make more mistakes as a freshman. He had two “silly” turnovers Friday night, McCaffery said.
But there’s no denying Bohannon’s potential for crooked numbers on offense. His stroke is probably the sweetest on the team. He averaged nearly 26 points per game at Linn-Mar in Marion.
Bohannon went just 1-for-5 from long range Friday. Don’t hold your breath for that to happen again. He was also second on the team with three assists: one to Cordell Pemsl in the paint, one to Tyler Cook for a dunk and the angelic heave to Williams for the fastbreak dunk.
Logic says your sixth man or your first guard off the bench should come in to score a bunch quickly and help other people do the same.
Bain covers Hawkeyes basketball for the Iowa City Press-Citizen, Des Moines Register and HawkCentral. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MatthewBain_.