By Brett Bosley
Junior guard Jonathan Williams began his off-season with one thing in mind: Work. Because of the time he spent working on his game in the off-season, he is now a regular face in the starting lineup. Being an upperclassman, one responsibility that he worked on stood out above all.
“Leadership skills, being more vocal. That was a big emphasis because last year, I wasn’t really talking that much,” said Williams. “I was just trying to stay above water. So that was one of the things I wanted to focus on, especially with a lot of new guys coming in.”
Williams also focused on aspects of his game he felt he needed to add or improve. Standing above all on that list was the ability to score, something the Rams were looking for after the losses of Melvin Johnson and Korey Billbury.
“I also worked on my perimeter game, attacking, and making different reads on different types of plays. So, I watched a lot of film and got a lot of shots up this summer.”
So far, through 10 games this season, Williams has stood up to the billing he set for himself. Averaging slightly over eight points per game in almost 26 minutes per game, Williams has been a go-to scorer on multiple occasions, exploding for a 12-point showing against Baylor and 22 points against St. John’s in back-to-back games in the Bahamas.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Head Coach Will Wade. “He’s put in the work and he’s playing with a lot more confidence and worked all summer. He has a good understanding of what we are trying to do and what we are doing basketball wise. When he plays aggressively and plays fast, he’s one of the best guards in the league.”
Besides Williams, the Rams are a guard-heavy team, featuring the likes of JeQuan Lewis, Samir Doughty, Malik Crowfield, and DeRiante Jenkins on a regular basis. However, Williams believes it adds to the team chemistry when the communications between all the combinations are strong.
“We do a good job in practice mixing things up. Sometimes it will be all three of us guards with JeQuan and Samir on the floor together, and there are times where it’s just two of us whoever it is. We play off each other and just know where certain people like the ball and where they don’t like it. So you learn from each other automatically, and we talk and say, “Hey, when you do this pass, I didn’t like it, I wasn’t comfortable, etc.…so that’s why I didn’t shoot it and gave it back to you.” …. it’s just all about learning.”
For Williams, it wasn’t all about being a leader on the team, but rather a piece that fit. But with a great system of support from upperclassman from his first two years, he has developed into the vocal leader he wanted to be.
“Of course, Bri(ante Weber) was there when I was a freshman. He was one of the best guards to come through here, so it was nice having him. Then you have other alumni who have been here, like [current Director of Player Development] Darius [Theus] to come back and be part of the program. So Bri, Melvin [Johnson] and Tre [Graham] were all here when I was a freshman too. So there were some good names to look up to.”
When competing at such a high level, Williams has come across some talented foes in recent years, such as D’Angelo Russell and Buddy Hield, which he has used to continue to get better both physically and mentally.
“When I’m guarding them, they just feel like nay other basketball player that has the same opportunities to make a play just like me. You have to respect whoever you are guarding, and you have to know what they like to do in certain cases. Say they are a great shooter, then I’m not going underneath their screens, so you have to know what they like to do and have respect for their ability, no matter who they are.
A native of Richmond, Williams attended St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey for high school. However, Williams always felt he needed to be back in the River City.
“This is where I really wanted to go. I had other schools that contacted me, but I didn’t get anything until my sophomore summer. That’s when I started getting noticed by schools and stuff like that. Originally, my mother moved me up to New Jersey to go to school. I went up there and a lot of schools from up there started to contact me. But, I always wanted to come back home anyway. For my last year of high school, I also wanted to come back, but my mom said, “No”. I just wanted to be back in the city, and it was a coach I wanted to play for, the playing style I preferred, and people I wanted to play with.”
When Williams finally got the call from VCU, it was destiny from there. With multiple things falling into place, he was bound to return to RVA to be part of the Black and Gold.
“Coach [Mike] Rhoades had seen me at a Christmas tournament, and was going up against [University of Pittsburgh’s] Chris Jones. His high school team was like, number two or three in the state and our team were full of young guys, such as [Atlanta Hawks guard and former Saint Joseph’s standout] DeAndre Bembry, and a couple other people that are at other schools. I played really good that game, and I didn’t know he was in the crowd. About a week later, my coach told me that I got a call about me from VCU.
Referring to how he felt about it, Williams’ reaction was more humble than some of his previous confident responses.
“I can’t even explain it. However, my mom knew before I did. She found out during the day when I was in school. She texted me, and she usually never bothered me during the day, so I knew it was something. I thought there might be something wrong. But, she told me, “VCU offered you today.” I thought she was lying, but she was serious. So I was really happy, one of the top five best days I have ever had for sure.”
In his first two years, Williams has been able to accomplish so much and be part of so many historic moments in VCU history. Some of those moments, he recalls, are some of his best in his recent memory.
“Advancing in the NCAA Tournament last year, and winning the A-10 Tournament my freshman year. I’d also say travelling to Spain since I had never been outside the country before, as well as going to the Bahamas earlier this year. That was a really good trip, even though we feel like we should have won all three games. I’d say those were all really good. Also, some games where teammates step up in big roles and play phenomenal. I always think about, even though we lost, when we played Florida State and how Melvin [Johnson] played. He went off for 36 points, and its moments like that, that I enjoy seeing because I know my teammates do the same for me when I do well too.”
With the NCAA Tournament a “norm” in the career of Williams at VCU, he understands the place the Rams are in, and how big the expectations are each year.
“It’s a blessing, really, but sometimes it can be bad. Now, people in our program take it for granted, like we are suppose to be there. We look at it now like we are suppose to win games. We aren’t trying to be there for just one day and leave. That’s not us, that’s not how our trip is suppose to go. We are always trying to be there for a while. I was just talking to a few of my former AAU teammates, and they haven’t been to the tournament or they just missed going a few times. They don’t know how that feels.”
With all the expectations, Williams continues to stay hungry on the court each day, and with the season still young there is plenty more to look for.
“I have a long way to go to where I want to be.”