Luke DeCock

UNC’s Kenny Williams shows there’s more to his game than shooting – DeCock

North Carolina’s Kenny Williams dives after a loose ball with Chattanooga’s Greg Pryor during the first half at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill.
North Carolina’s Kenny Williams dives after a loose ball with Chattanooga’s Greg Pryor during the first half at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill. rwillett@newsobserver.com

Kenny Williams knew he was more than a shooter. Roy Williams knew Kenny Williams was more than a shooter. He didn’t get much of a chance as a freshman at North Carolina last season to show he could even do that. He didn’t even make his first 3-pointer until March.

Williams got there four months quicker as a sophomore, making his first of the season in Sunday’s 97-57 win over Chattanooga, but it wasn’t his shooting that caught anyone’s eye. Williams’ hustle on defense helped turn the game around late in the first half, with the Tar Heels trailing with as few as eight minutes to go.

Williams ended up with what his coach called “a Danny Green kind of stat sheet right there,” sincere praise to be sure: 11 points, six rebounds, five assists and three steals, a tangible measure of Williams’ “skyrocketing” confidence.

“I haven’t been, even in high school, I haven’t been this confident in myself,” Williams said. “I’m looking to keep that going.”

Williams was the forgotten man last season, a late addition to the roster after Shaka Smart left Virginia Commonwealth, and Williams was released from his letter of intent. With only Luke Maye coming in as a freshman, the Tar Heels needed another body to add depth in that class, even if there was almost no playing time available last season.

There’s playing time available now, and was even before Theo Pinson was injured before the season. But Pinson’s injury thrust Williams into a new role as the Tar Heels’ fourth option on the perimeter behind Joel Berry, Nate Britt and Justin Jackson, and Williams even started Friday’s opener at Tulane over Britt. (Britt was in the starting lineup Sunday.)

Williams knew his moment wouldn’t arrive immediately, but it’s here now, sooner than he or anyone else expected. And he’s taken the opportunity to show there’s more to his game than shooting, which he and his coach knew all along.

Video: North Carolina coach Roy Williams comments on team play, freshman Tony Bradley, and the Tar Heels’ 97-57 victory over Chattanooga on Sunday, November 13, 2016 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C.

“I always thought he was a really good shooter, but the first game I ever saw him play he made five 3s, but he also took three charges,” Roy Williams said. “He’s an intelligent player.”

Still, Kenny Williams has a reputation as a shooter, even if that hasn’t really surfaced yet. Last year, he was without a 3-pointer until the quarterfinals of the ACC tournament, although he had only taken 12 before that. He needed only four attempts and two games to do it this season. His first 3-pointer a year ago helped propel the Tar Heels to a win over Pittsburgh; Sunday, he made a wide variety of contributions to help the Tar Heels shake off a composed, confident Chattanooga team that won 29 games last year.

In the final minute before halftime, Williams knocked the ball free under the Chattanooga basket, leading to a Berry 3-pointer, then got fouled diving for a loose ball at midcourt and tacked on two free throws of his own. He did the same kind of thing with five minutes to go in the game: tipped in a miss, then stole the ball at the other end to feed Berry for a layup. The Tar Heels could count on Williams for that kind of thing all night.

At one point in the second half, Williams found himself on the court with Maye and three freshmen. Suddenly, he was the old man on the court.

“I’m in my second year, I’m still learning, still figuring out the ins and outs of college basketball and playing on North Carolina, playing with these guys,” Williams said. “I really don’t feel that old. I feel a little bit older.”

Williams never really had a chance last season to show what he can do. Sunday, he showed everyone at the Smith Center there may be more to his game than anyone thought there was.

Luke DeCock: 919-829-8947, ldecock@newsobserver.com, @LukeDeCock

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