The UConn men’s basketball team’s Sunday clash with Memphis was the same old song and dance – a brief spurt of competent shooting, horrid perimeter defense, a general feeling of sadness for Husky fans in attendance– but one positive to come out of the Huskies’ 83-79 loss was the play of JUCO transfer Kwintin Williams.
Williams had played just 98 minutes in 15 games before Sunday, but against Memphis he made a convincing case for his playing time in the season’s final moments to go up significantly: 10 minutes, seven points, seven rebounds and plenty of energy to help the Huskies nearly dig out of a 23-point deficit.
“I thought he played tremendously. Hopefully he comes back tomorrow playing with that energy, and he’ll definitely be playing the next game.” UConn head coach Kevin Ollie said after the game. “I’m proud of him being ready.”
Williams brought down three offensive boards, ripped the ball out of Memphis hands and aggressively double-teamed ballhandlers at the right time. He also threw down one huge dunk, which didn’t involve any wild windmill or 360 moves but got a nice rise out of a mostly drowsy crowd of 8,574 at Gampel Pavilion.
“I was a little bit cold, but I started getting it going immediately, rebounding and just doing whatever I can to help the team. It varies every game. We might be lacking in rebounding, we might be lacking in energy and effort, and that’s what I try to do. Just bring whatever we’re lacking,” Williams said.
Four games ago, the sophomore transfer received 24 minutes of playing time in a blowout against Wichita State, and although he didn’t light up the stat sheet (eight rebounds, four points), his energy level seemed to indicate that he’d see the court more often.
Instead, he played just 13 minutes combined in the next three games, including a DNP-CD in a win over ECU.
“We go off of practice in this program,” Ollie said when asked postgame if Williams isn’t performing well enough in practice to earn minutes. “Not saying he wasn’t practicing hard, but we have to see that each and every day, you know: the evidence of him coming in and working hard.”
Williams didn’t seem to have any hard feelings when told of Ollie’s comments, standing behind his head coach.
“Every day varies. I feel like I bring the same energy, but if Coach feels like he sees something different, then that’s exactly what it is,” Williams said.
Williams is just the latest case of a young player who has seen their playing time fluctuate wildly in this disastrous season.
Isaiah Whaley received a couple of DNPs early, saw heavy usage in January and is now back to playing less than 10 minutes per game. Tyler Polley had a run of playing single-digit minutes in 10 of 11 games before playing 37 in a win over SMU. Mamadou Diarra showed hints early of being a strong rebounder, but he’s mostly been glued to the bench since, despite impressive plus-minus numbers.
Williams has stayed ready, and hit the court Sunday to give 100 percent.
“He brought a lot to the team today. I really appreciate him. Obviously, it’s not a secret that he hasn’t been playing that much recently, but he did a good job of coming in today,” Christian Vital said.
Whether the athletic forward will play much in the season’s final moments appears to be entirely up to the discretion of Ollie.
“I’m just trusting Coach, and I feel like he does whatever is right for the team, whatever we need to do to win. I just believe in him,” Williams said.