Blog: Williams Flourishing in Mbakwe's Absence

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Even before Rodney Williams stepped on the court at Minnesota, people knew that he was a great athlete. He has proven that with his high vertical leaps and spectacular dunks. But now in his junior season, Williams has shown that there is more to his game than pure athleticism. He has gained confidence, taken on a leadership role, and excelled on the court. 

Following Trevor Mbakwe's ACL tear, Williams shifted from the wing to the power forward position. With this change, his impact on the game skyrocketed. Williams's average playing time prior to Mbakwe's injury was 26.0 minutes per game. In the three games so far without Mbakwe, Williams played an average of 10 more minutes. His scoring almost doubled (from 7.7 to 14.7 points per game), and his rebounding increased by five (from 2.7 to 7.7 rpg).
Go Gophers! Rodney
Go Gophers!
Williams has grown into a leadership role for the Gophers.
Go Gophers!

"I get a lot of mismatches because I can use my speed to get around the bigger guys," Williams said. "So I'm liking the four right now."

Scoring and rebounding are just the beginning of Williams's contributions. His post-Mbakwe blocks (1.0 to 3.3) and steals (1.6 to 2.3) averages have also increased. Head coach Tubby Smith also said Williams has been leading the team in deflections.

"I'm impressed with his defense, blocking shots--the total package," Smith said. "He's been outstanding. He can influence the game, not just by his athleticism, but by being a poised player, a smart player--staying out of foul trouble, knowing when to pass, knowing when to shoot. He's actually directing guys and communicating. He's really become a real leader."

With the success he has had in recent games, Williams has drawn comparisons to former Gopher forward Damian Johnson, who led the team in blocks for three years, and in both blocks and steals as a senior in 2009-10, while also averaging 9.9 ppg and 4.3 rpg. Williams has the potential to be as good as or even better than Johnson.

"He's a better athlete than Damian," Smith said. "And he's understanding how big of an impact he can have on a game at both ends of the court. That's why I think he's blossoming the way he is."

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