Freshmen forwards progress report
There's no question that freshman forward Jordan Williams's performance thus far after being thrust into the starting lineup has been encouraging. Through six games, Williams leads the Terrapins in rebounding and has proven to be a capable defender ... at least, until he gets into foul trouble.
Williams, as well as fellow freshman forward James Padgett, has not been afforded the luxury of developing slowly -- not on a team that lacked experienced frontcourt depth even before junior forward Dino Gregory was suspended for the first eight games of the season. Still, he and Padgett have drawn frequent praise from Williams for their ability to adapt quickly to Division I basketball.
As for an area in which the freshman duo can improve, Coach Gary Williams noted yesterday that defensive positioning currently tops the list. For Jordan Williams, in particular, part of that means learning how to be aggressive defensively without getting himself into early foul trouble. During last week's loss to Cincinnati, Jordan Williams was assigned to guard talented Bearcats forward Yancy Gates, and initially he fared pretty well. For the first few minutes, Jordan Williams did a fine job of denying entry passes into Gates, even turning a few deflected pass attempts into Cincinnati turnovers.
But after 12 minutes of play, Jordan Williams had picked up two fouls and was sent to the bench. Upon re-entry, Jordan Williams acknowledged he was a little less emphatic in his coverage of Gates, and consequently, Gates's offensive effectiveness improved as the game progressed.
"Obviously, fouls make you a little bit less aggressive," Jordan Williams said. "Once you get in the mind-set of you know you have two fouls you don't want to risk getting a third foul and being out of the game. I ended up getting a third foul pretty quick in the second half. I think that hurts a lot, being in foul trouble, because we couldn't really play as aggressive as we wanted to against him. He's a very good player, and you need to play aggressive against him."
Jordan Williams is averaging 7.2 points and 7.7 rebounds per game, more than adequate production from a player who has competed in only a half dozen college games. But he also leads the team in fouls (17), a recognition of which he wants no part. However, Jordan Williams said he's not willing to sacrifice his instinctive defensive mind-set for a safer approach.
"I'm not going to stress it too much," Jordan Williams said. "I'm going to go into every game how I always go into every game, and that's just being as aggressive as possible for as long as possible."
Gary Williams said he believes the enhanced experience that Jordan Williams has received so far will help the freshman down the road.
"It's a great opportunity for him, that's for sure," Gary Williams said. "You worry, confidence-wise, sometimes that you don't get beat up too much. It's like a quarterback that's a rookie that's on a bad team and gets sacked 10 times a game and all of the sudden he gets gun shy. So you want to make sure that his confidence is still there. He's done some really good things.
"Both James and Jordan have really done some good things. They've scored in situations against good people, but like most high school players, they weren't made to really work and get position every time. In fact, they're told a lot of times in high school, 'Make sure you don't foul.' So if a guy gets pretty good position, you just let him go and get a lay-up. His team will win eventually because they're better. Well, you don't have that advantage in college. You have to bust it every play, and hopefully they're seeing that."
Padgett has come off the bench to average 7.5 points and 5.5 rebounds per contest. He also is shooting 51.2 percent from the field.
Defensive positioning, especially against a foe as formidable as Gates, will be crucial in the development of both freshmen forwards, according to Gary Williams.
"You have to really maintain position as a college player," Gary Williams said. "In other words, in high school as an inside player you can recover with a block if you get out of position. In college, if you get caught with the wrong angle, those guys are too strong. You can't get close enough to them. The guy Gates from Cincinnati weighed about 280. Once he gets you wedged out of there, you're done no matter how big you are."
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