n Well-travelled Kenny Williams beginning to fit in Rebels' rotation.
By Parrish Alford
OXFORD -- When Kenny Williams, the one-time Kansas State signee, inked with Ole Miss, the Rebels got a lot in the package. A lot of energy, heart and hair.
What they didn't get was a lot of ego.
The selflessness of Williams, combined with the understanding of his role and his ever-increasing comfort within it are reasons Ole Miss could find itself in the NIT quarterfinals Tuesday morning.
South Region No. 4 seed Ole Miss plays a second-round game at No. 1 seed Clemson Monday night. The Rebels are just 2-10 in an opponent's gym and will need another burst of Williams' energy to set up a third-round meeting with the Syracuse-San Diego State winner.
"He's starting to feel as if he can be successful at this level if he takes the right approach, and he's been able to string more of those games together," Ole Miss coach Andy Kennedy said. "If he takes the right approach in the off-season, he'll make a remarkable change, much like Clarence Sanders."
A Miami, Fla., native, Williams signed as a tight end with the Auburn football program in 2003. He eventually found his way to the basketball court at St. Petersburg (Fla.) College for two successful seasons. He was granted a release from his Kansas State scholarship during that school's coaching change after the 2006 season.
Williams, a beefy 6-foot-8, 240-pound power forward, has been a consistent rebounding presence all year, but what he's showing now is increased production on defense with 18 of his 39 blocked shots in the last 12 games.
It's that kind of energy that has made him a hit with the student section which taunts visitors with "fear the beard," cheers for Williams' bushy facial hair.
"You know he can grow that thing in about three hours," Kennedy jokes.
Perhaps, but it's taken Williams, a junior from Miami, longer to believe he was getting the job done nightly.
"I knew I had to come out and play harder and bring more energy to the team. Then we'd have more success," he said.
Williams looked very much in his zone against Appalachian State, hitting 6-of-10 field goals to finish with 13 points. Not all of them were his signature put-backs with offensive rebounds. He hit bank shots and leaners along the way and added 11 rebounds and three blocked shots in the Rebels' 73-59 first-round win.
Williams' points - He's averaging 10.1 over his last four games - have become more important of late as center Dwayne Curtis has played through injury to the big toe on his right foot.
Curtis had 14 points on 6-for-8 shooting against Appalachian State. It was his best game since sustaining the injury against Georgia, and he remains the weapon of choice when the Rebels look inside.
"DC is our best low-post presence, and we've got to get him playing well to have a chance to go in and beat a team like Clemson on its home floor," Kennedy said.
Talk like that doesn't bother Williams.
"When my number is called it's on the defensive end to block shots and rebound. On the offensive end, if I feel I can make a play, then I'll make a play. I'd rather pass to Todd (Abernethy), Bam (Doyne), Clarence (Sanders) or DC. They are the key to this offense.
"Next year it may be a different role for me, a more important role, but this year my role is to defend, rebound and make plays when my time comes up."
Williams is shooting 55.5 percent on the year and has scored nine points or more 15 times. His teammates do not consider him a liability.
"Even if he misses his shot, he can go get his own rebound, and he's athletic enough to finish on the break or down low with the big guys," guard Brian Smith said.
Williams may finish some big plays at Clemson. If so, they will likely be impromptu and free lance in nature, shots with a loose ball or a rebound.
"I'm not going to go out of my way to get buckets. There is a system we have that I try to respect," Williams said. "I just want to rebound, defend, block shots and do the best I can."