Athletic Hawkeye Christian Williams looks to add range to his game

Mark Emmert
Hawk Central

NORTH LIBERTY, Ia. — Christian Williams never thought about leaving the Iowa basketball team after a disappointing sophomore season.

And the 6-foot-6 guard made it clear Sunday that he’s not coming back intending to fill a minor role on what will be a deep 2017-18 team.

"It was just the fact that I had to understand what was going on and what the team needed," Williams said of his transition from starting point guard to a bench player averaging 13 minutes of playing time per game. "I just kind of had to swallow a little pride and take the next step forward. It’s just a new role from high school."

This is what Iowa coaches want to see from Christian Williams this season -- rising up with confidence to take outside shots.

Jordan Bohannon is Iowa’s point guard now, a job he seized from Williams and played well enough to earn a spot on the all-freshman team in the Big Ten Conference.

Williams got off to a slow start last winter and never seemed comfortable as a scorer. He averaged 2.4 points and 1.6 assists. But his defensive value was never in question. With a wingspan of 6-11, he gathered 26 steals to rank fourth on the team.

Williams told reporters after helping his team win a Prime Time League game at the North Liberty Community Center on Sunday that his goal is to establish himself as a wing player for the Hawkeyes in an attempt to absorb the 31 minutes per game that the graduated Peter Jok leaves behind.

"That’s a huge adjustment for me," Williams conceded. "I’ve got to score the ball. That’s some pressure, but I think I can handle it."

Williams has been hoisting 500 3-pointers every day this summer, some from NBA range. As a player who admits he struggles with confidence at times, that has gone a long way toward making him feel more comfortable.

On Sunday, he made 3-of-4 from the arc and finished with 13 points, nine rebounds and six assists. But he missed seven of his eight 2-point attempts and four of his six free throws. The offense is clearly a work in progress.

There’s no denying Williams’ supreme athletic ability. He looks like he’s gliding when running down the court until you realize he’s actually moving faster than anyone else out there. On Sunday, he outleapt 6-11 Hawkeye freshman Luka Garza three times to corral rebounds. His rebounds and steals ignited a transition game that carried his team to victory.

"He’s probably the best defender I’ve ever faced with his long arms and he can get his arms and hands on every single ball," said Iowa sophomore Maishe Dailey, who matched up with Williams on Sunday and has been doing so in practice every day since arriving here last summer.

Dailey said he measures his progress as a player by how he performs against Williams.

Williams appreciated the compliment, but said his desire is to be much more than a defensive stopper who earns limited minutes. And that starts with adding range to his offense.

"I’m a lot more confident than I was last season. I’m shooting with no hesitation, that’s the biggest key," Williams said.

Williams was a quarterback growing up in Illinois, taking up football at age 5. It wasn’t until he was in fifth grade that he started playing basketball. He thinks that is part of why he sometimes questions himself when it comes to that sport.

"I think confidence has always been an issue for me basketball-wise. I’m not really sure what it is," he said.

So it helped Williams to hear coach Fran McCaffery tell him after last season: "Those minutes that Pete had are going to be there to fill, so it’s my job to show him that I can bring that to the table."

Williams is focused exclusively on shooting in his individual workouts for that reason. He had a brief setback last week when a teammate kneed him in the quadriceps muscle. He skipped Thursday’s PTL session for that reason.

And there’s also a nagging hip flexor injury that dogged him throughout last season and that he tweaked again Sunday. Williams said he believes that issue will always be with him, but he’s learning to adjust.

Williams is eager for this season to start, knowing he has something to prove.

“As long as I stay in the gym like I have, I think I’ll be able to sprout out right away once the season hits,” he said.

That’s a confident statement, and one Hawkeye coaches must love to hear.