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Feb. 8, 2011
By Bill Hass
GREENSBORO, N.C. (theACC.com) – People are seeing less of Jordan Williams but more of his game this season.
The Maryland sophomore is producing standout statistical lines. He is a double-double machine with averages of 17.7 points and 12.0 rebounds, numbers he can post because he averages 34 minutes in ACC contests.
That’s a big deal because, as a freshman Williams averaged nearly 10 fewer minutes per game. He would like to have played more, but with 280 pounds on his 6-foot-10 frame he didn’t have the stamina to run the court that long.
Now, at a svelte 255, Williams feels and plays much better.
“It’s like night and day, it really is (from last season),” Williams said. “Last year I felt like I was running in three feet of snow every time up and down the floor. This year I feel good. Every time the ball is coming off the rim if I don’t get the rebound I’m running up the court.”
Williams showed plenty of promise as a freshman, averaging 9.6 points and 8.6 rebounds. But with three key players graduated, the Terps needed him to extend his minutes and become a focus of their attack.
“I think he got himself in great physical condition going into this season,” said coach Gary Williams. “He wasn’t in as good a shape last year but he was smart enough to learn from his freshman year what he thought he needed to do through the summer and the fall and he did a great job of that.
“Until you really work hard and see where you are, I think sometimes you’re not sure how many rebounds you can get per game or whatever, but once he started to have some success he realized that those things are there. It takes hard work to do it but it’s certainly worth it.”
The solution was simple but took discipline – running to get in condition and making a concerted effort to change his diet. More fruit and less soda helped. And fewer cheeseburgers meant fewer pounds.
“Eating the right things, stop going to (fast food) every day, just being smart,” he explained. “I’m an eater, I love to eat anything in sight, so I just had to be smart and start eating better food.
“It was hard in the beginning but when you start getting into the habit of it, it’s really easy. It’s just like getting up and brushing your teeth every day; you just get used to it. I can play longer, I can run the floor a lot better, I’m beating some of the guards down the court.”
Williams admitted he’ll cheat now and then, but there are fewer temptations.
“For so long I was eating whatever I wanted whenever I wanted to eat it,” he said. “I really developed some bad eating habits. It was more mental than anything else. I just had to be tough about it.”
At one point Williams dropped to 250 pounds but felt he lost too much strength. So he worked with Maryland’s strength coach to regain some pounds without the fat.
“I gained five pounds of muscle and now I have the same strength that I had before,” he said. “I’m just a lot lighter on my feet, I can jump a lot higher, move quicker side to side and get up and down the floor a lot faster.”
His teammates noticed a difference in Williams’ ability this season.
“He’s a lot more aggressive, he’s looking to score at all times and that’s what we need him to do,” said senior Adrian Bowie. “He rebounded like that last year but he’s doing it at a different type of pace this year. He can play longer so that means he can get more rebounds and get more opportunities to score.”
Some of Williams’ ability is in his genes. His uncle, Murray Williams, is 6-6 and played four years at Connecticut. His father, Leron Williams, is 6-8, played in junior college and was an assistant coach for Jordan’s high school team. Feedback is always available, especially from his dad.
“Whenever I play bad he’ll let me know and whenever I play good he’ll let me know,” Williams said.
While he knew his role would increase this season, Williams didn’t set any statistical goals for himself.
“I wanted to be a better leader,” he said. “I knew we were losing three seniors from last year, I knew that leadership spot would need to be filled and I wanted to take that role, whether it was scoring 20 points a game or five points a game, whether it be 10 rebounds or no rebounds. I just wanted to help my team any way I could.”
Of course, the way things have worked out, he has become the leading rebounder and one of the top scorers in the ACC. He draws the lion’s share of attention from opposing defenders but is learning to cope with that. Virginia double-teamed Williams the entire game and ended his streak of 13 straight double-doubles, but the Terps won easily anyway.
“I’ve just got to let the game come to me instead of trying to force shots,” he said. “If the ball happens to fall in my hands in the right position, I’ll score. (Against Virginia) I had to show I could pass the ball out of the post, get teammates involved and it worked. We hit shots that proved we’re a very versatile team.”
Williams has always had a knack for rebounding, which he developed in high school in Torrington, Conn. And he doesn’t mind that the paint gets clogged with bodies.
“It’s been part of my game for so long that you just get a feel for it and an understanding of how to do it,” he explained. “I’m used to contact. I like contact a little bit, sort of old-school like the NBA and like college used to be, a lot more physical than it is today. I’m trying to bring that back into the game a little bit, be more physical and use my body a lot more, and it definitely works.”
Of course, that means Williams will draw a lot of fouls – more than anyone else in the ACC, actually. And that sometimes works to the opponent’s advantage. He’s not a good free throw shooter, although he has brought it up from 50 percent early in the season to 54.2 percent.
Gary Williams suggested that his center gets so focused and blocks out the noise so well during a game that he is affected by the change when he goes to the line.
“All of sudden everything stops, he walks to the line and it’s a different situation for him,” the coach said. “He’s got to get to where he can handle that situation. Jordan is working at it, we’re working at it, and hopefully the last half of the ACC season here he’ll do a great job from the line.”
Jordan Williams said he shoots free throws well in practice and has been told by many observers that there’s nothing mechanically wrong with the way he shoots the ball.
“It’s more of a mental mindset I have to get in, to have confidence in myself that I’m going to make the free throw every time,” he said. “Coach Williams said there’s nothing wrong with my stroke, it’s just a matter of getting the mental aspect down, being able to focus enough and being tough enough to make the shot.”
Williams also is working to develop his offense in the post, using some jump-hooks and face-up moves. If he keeps improving, he may become a player for whom there is no good opposing game plan.
“He pursues balls out of his area, he rebounds out of his area, he has the ability to score over either shoulder, which is really good,” said Seth Greenberg of Virginia Tech. “He’s got a really nice little left-handed jump hook, he runs the court hard, he’s a big body. He’s just a terrific player and getting better.”
The Terps are 5-4 in the ACC and 15-8 overall and take a break from league play when they host Longwood Wednesday. Then there are eight conference games plus the ACC Tournament left for Maryland to make its case for a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
So how can the Terps, who are 3-1 in ACC road games, do that?
“Playing help defense and talking to each other on defense, playing as a team generally together both offensively and defensively,” Williams said. “Getting everybody involved whether it’s the bench, whether it’s the starters, just staying together, that’s the most important part.”
And cranking out double-doubles is likely to be a big part of that success.
“He is a sophomore so he’s still on a learning curve and he’s had really a very productive year in terms of points and rebounds,” Gary Williams said. “The key for Jordan is the other players sensing when we need some things from them and they can do that to prevent a defense from collapsing completely on him.
“That’s what it takes – Jordan continuing to learn plus the other players stepping up and not just depending on Jordan. Hopefully we have that balance and we can go with that.”
Bill Hass is a long-time observer of ACC sports. His career at the Greensboro News & Record spanned 36 years, from 1969 until his retirement in March 2006. He is now writing "Bill Hass on the ACC" for theACC.com. His weekly columns will keep fans plugged in to the Atlantic Coast Conference.
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