Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend

HealthyWil­liams steps up for VCU

Wing’s strong start has been buoyed by his offseason work

- BYWAYNE EPPS JR.

Heading into VCU’s season opener against Utah State in the Bad Boy Mowers Crossover Classic, Vince Williams admits he carried some nervousnes­s.

He had a bit of firstgame jitters, plus it was the Rams’ debut against an outside opponent— the NCAA’s later season start date because of COVID- 19 effectivel­y scratched most preseason exhibition­s and closed scrimmages.

But as can happen, after he got his first points — a layup in the late stages of the first half — he began to level off, calm down and just hoop.

Williams went on to register the type of stat line his versatilit­y allows: a then career- high 15 points

with a pair of 3- pointers included, five rebounds, four assists and a steal.

The outing was big to him in a 85- 69 VCU victory. Healthy, the 6- 6,

220- pound junior wing from Toledo, Ohio, had his most productive offseason at VCU this year. He was subsequent­ly in a better place entering the season, and the Utah State game yielded results.

Still, he wondered after that game if he could continue to produce in certain ways, to contribute to the Rams’ success.

The answer has been “yes.”

Williams has reaped the fruits of the offseason work, and of simply being healthy and injury free, to author what’s been his most productive season at VCU so far. He’s averaging career highs of 11.2 points, 5.4 rebounds ( a team high), 42.9% shooting from 3 and 26.7 minutes.

On Wednesday at Saint Joseph’s, Williams scored a career- best 17 points.

He’s been a true, important Swiss Army knife for VCU ( 8- 2, 1- 0 Atlantic 10), which hosts Davidson ( 5- 4, 1- 1) on Saturday at 2: 30 p. m.— a player able to contribute and make an impact in a variety of ways, all over the floor.

“He did an awesome job this summer getting in the best shape of his life. And he’s matured,” coach Mike Rhoades said. “And I think he really appreciate­s how he feels and how he’s going about it because he’s playing really well.”

The list of ailments Williams has dealt with includes: shoulder surgery before his freshman season that limited him in the offseason of 2018, surgery on the opposite shoulder that limited him the offseason of 2019, a concussion that kept him out the first game of 2019- 20, a broken bone is his left hand that scratched him for five games last January and a sprained left Achilles that ended his season four games early.

While the Achilles recovery lingered into the early part of the offseason, Williams returned to VCU in June and was able to put in much work—“an actual offseason” — on areas ranging from his conditioni­ng to his shot.

The preparatio­n has been the catalyst for what he’s shown in the Rams’ 10 games.

“I feel like that automatica­lly just brings you 10 times more confidence on the court,” Williams said of the combinatio­n of preparedne­ss and health he’s benefiting from.

Along with the careerhigh 42.9% clip from deep, Williams has made a career- high 15 3s ( 15 of 35). He made six 3s apiece the previous two years.

And he’s continued the varied contributi­ons that aren’t always counted, like drawing charges or getting a hand in to deflect the ball on defense.

“No. 1, his parents gave us a great kid to work with,” Rhoades said. “He played for a great high school coach in Toledo. Coach [ Ed Heintschel] did a great job with him. So he knows how to play basketball the right way.”

The defense is what means the most to Williams. He’s leading the Rams with 5.4 rebounds a game.

“Play good defense, nine [ times] out of 10 you’re going to get rewarded on the offensive side,” Williams said.

Saturday’s matchup figures to present a challenge defensivel­y for VCU against a Davidson team known for off- ball movement on offense.

Williams said the Wildcats will make some tough shots —“because that’s just what they do.” But the Rams will try to limit the looks as much as possible.

“Just us being locked in on defense, calling things out and just being there,” Williams said. “Every touch.”

For himself, Williams’ main goal as the year progresses is simple: stay injury free.

He finally has been, and now he’s enjoying the rewards.

“He is a Swiss Army knife,” Rhoades said. “I told him walking out of [ Wednesday’s game], No. 1, ‘ You’re so fun to coach. And what you do to make your teammates and your team better,’ I said, ‘ People that know basketball know that.’ And big props to him.”

 ??  ?? 2:30 p.m. 910
2:30 p.m. 910
 ?? THE ASSOCIATED PRESS ?? VCU’s do-it-all wing player VinceWilli­ams is averaging a career-high 11.2 points and leads the Ramswith 5.4 rebounds per game.
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS VCU’s do-it-all wing player VinceWilli­ams is averaging a career-high 11.2 points and leads the Ramswith 5.4 rebounds per game.

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