Kansas State forward Nino Williams went on a surge in non-conference play, positioning himself as an important piece of the puzzle in Bruce Weber’s first year as head coach of the Wildcats basketball team.
He continued it into Big 12 Conference play against Oklahoma State last week.
Williams, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 220 pounds, scored a career-high 16 points against South Dakota on New Year’s Eve in Bramlage Coliseum. He led K-State in scoring in the 70-50 win and also took down seven rebounds in 24 minutes of action.
Just five days later, once again in Bramlage, Williams set a new career high for himself, scoring 17 points in a 73-67 win over Oklahoma State.
It was the third time Williams scored in double figures this season. Currently, he averages 7.1 points per game and his 5.5 rebounds per contest is tied for second-best on the team.
Williams has started 11 games and has seemed to solidify himself as one Weber is gaining confidence in.
With Big 12 play now started, Williams will have to continue to grow against much stiffer competition.
“He has played well, he just needs to play a little smarter,” Weber said after Williams’ big afternoon against South Dakota. “I think you can go through all the guys and see that they each had causal struggles at different points. Nino had a few struggles, but he has really rose up.”
Weber also said that competition in practice has elevated Williams’ game.
“I think he took the challenge when Shane (Southwell) took his spot for a couple weeks when he got hurt and now there is competition,” he said. “What happens with competition? Either you lay down or you step up to the challenge, and he stepped up to the challenge and said that he wanted minutes, too.”
Williams said he feels more confident this season with the additional playing time.
“I think things have gone well,” he said. “Last year, I really didn’t play a lot, but this year I’m getting to play a lot more. I’m starting a lot this year, which I don’t really care about, but I am playing and I just enjoy being on the court and trying to be a good teammate and help the team win.”
Although his performance against Oklahoma State might have been overshadowed by Rodney McGruder’s 28-point game, Weber said Williams’ day couldn’t be overlooked.
The Wildcats will need performances like that throughout the season if they hope to be successful.
“We can’t forget about Nino’s effort,” Weber said. “He was really good for us.”
As players like Williams improve, Weber hopes that progress can provide depth - something that could be a strength in the conference schedule and beyond.
“I said it the other night, that if we could get to eight starters, I think we could be a really good team,” Weber said. “If we can get consistency out of everybody, so if you get into foul trouble, you don’t have to worry.”