Though a highly-touted recruit coming out of high school in 2011, Ohio State junior center Amir Williams’ first two seasons as a Buckeye were a bit of a disappointment.
A four-star prospect and McDonald’s All-American before donning the Scarlet and Gray, Williams at times seemed a step slow, tentative and unsure of his talents in his first two seasons in Columbus. He averaged just 2.6 points over those two seasons, despite seeing action in 66 games and starting 26.
That all took a back seat Wednesday, when Williams posted a career-best 16 points and collected seven rebounds against American University. He scored six of OSU’s first eight points of the game, keeping the ship afloat as his teammates struggled, prompting praise from coach Thad Matta.
“Thank goodness Amir got us off to a pretty decent start there and was making some shots,” Matta said about OSU’s early shooting struggles against the Eagles. The Buckeyes (4-0, 0-0) only shot 25.9 percent from the field in the opening 20 minutes.
Williams is averaging 9.5 points over his team’s four games this season, and he said the difference has been the result of hard work.
“I’ve just been working my tail off in the offseason and during practice as well,” Williams said following his big night against American (1-3, 0-0). “(I) try to have some go-to moves in the post and it’s looking like it’s finally starting to come alive.”
A few of those go-to moves were useful against American, as Williams knocked down baby hook shots with both his right and left hands — something that wasn’t seen out of him last year, but Matta had been expecting.
“I’ve seen Amir — really he’s been more energized, more aggressive. He’s been practicing very well. He’s been dominant in practice,” Matta said after the game. “You saw him (against American), he was catching the ball, he was making his reads, he knew where guys were supposed to be and going and making his moves. I thought his patience was really good as well.”
Williams’ improvement has not gone unnoticed by his teammates either.
“What we saw the other night (against American) is the Amir we’ve been seeing for the last five, six months, however long it’s been since the end of last season,” junior forward Sam Thompson said Sunday. “Amir’s put a ton of work in, put countless hours in the gym working on every aspect of his game, (and he’s) really looking to improve on the season that he had last year. Early on this season, it’s been evident by the work that he’s done.”
Williams has also been a force on the defensive side of the ball, using his 85.5-inch wingspan to his advantage to block nine shots already in four games.
“That’s something I like, him plugging the middle down there,” Matta said Sunday. “He’s got, as we’ve seen for two and a half years now, he’s got very good timing and a sense of where the ball is (defensively).”
Williams’ activity on that side of the ball has stemmed throughout the rest of his game, allowing him to grow into more of a leader, Thompson said.
“Amir’s been aggressive. Amir’s been active. Amir’s been getting it done,” Thompson said. “Amir’s really been the guy yelling at a lot of us and he’s really emerged as a leader on this team.”
The growth in production from Williams early in the 2013-14 season has partly been because of a growth in confidence in his own ability.
“I’m starting to feel a lot more confident and making moves in the post and I just hope I can keep the confidence up and continue to make those moves,” Williams said. “Continue to make those baskets down low for my team so I can just try to help them night in and night out.”
Williams and the Buckeyes are slated to continue their non-conference schedule Monday when they play host to the Wyoming Cowboys (4-1, 0-0). Tipoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.