Ohio State junior center Amir Williams hardly left a mark on the 2012-13 basketball season.
Once the final buzzer sounded in Ohio State’s 70-66 loss to Wichita State in the Elite Eight last March, Williams — who did not attempt a shot and only played 17 minutes in the game — saw a season come to a close where he was not living up to his four-star bidding out of high school.
Williams played in all 37 of OSU’s games last year, but averaged only 16.5 minutes, 3.5 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. But once that year was over, Williams took it upon himself to work at reaching his full potential.
“It was going to be a big season for me. I know I could have played better last season, but it just so happened that I didn’t,” Williams said Tuesday. “We can’t help too much on the past, so I try to focus on this season and try to get better.”
Williams knew the importance of pushing himself in the offseason, as did associate strength and conditioning coach Dave Richardson, who helped create a rigorous summer training program to allow Williams to log more minutes this year.
“I knew what was at stake for me this season. (Richardson) also knew what was at stake for me this season so I made it a point of emphasis to get myself into better shape, and he was right there alongside pushing me every single step,” Williams said.
A part of that program was a weekly mile run for the entire team, something that senior guard Lenzelle Smith, Jr. said played a big part in Williams’ improved conditioning.
“We had to run a mile every week in the summer until Amir made his time,” Smith, Jr. said Tuesday. “Everybody in that locker room might have had something to do with that. We were tired of running it and it was all up to him.”
It was not until almost the end of summer that Williams made his mile time of six minutes flat, Smith Jr. said.
“We did everything we could. Tried intimidation, whatever we could (to motivate him),” Smith, Jr. said.
“Intimidation don’t work on me, come on now,” Williams interjected Tuesday, then joking that he did it on purpose so the rest of his teammates could get in better shape. “It was almost the whole summer it took me to make that mile time, but it was worth it.”
The overhaul was a long time coming for Williams, who had 12 points and nine rebounds in the Buckeyes’ 86-48 win against Bryant Wednesday, but OSU coach Thad Matta said the extra time he needed to grow is something that happens to many players across college basketball.
“I think that we’ve probably been a little spoiled around here with some of the bigs we’ve brought in here … you don’t get a Greg Oden or a Jared Sullinger walk through the door very often. Nobody does,” Matta said Tuesday. “Everybody’s different. Adjusting from the high school level to the college level, some guys do it quicker. Some guys come in more ready, more physically ready, more mentally ready. You never know until you’ve had them for a while.”
The offseason work has paid dividends for Williams early this season, who is averaging 10.7 points per game while collecting 7.1 rebounds and playing 24 minutes a game.
“I’m playing more minutes than I was last year. I don’t feel like I’m tired like I was last year,” Williams said. “Sometimes (Matta) would just take me out just because, but I feel like I’m in a lot more shape than I was this year than last year and I just gotta continue to build on that.”
The added time on the floor for Williams coupled with a more aggressive style of play in the post when he gets the ball is good news for OSU (9-0, 0-0), who has four players — Williams, Smith, Jr., senior guard Aaron Craft and junior forward LaQuinton Ross — who are scoring in double figures. The high post presence is something Williams said he wanted to be for both himself and his teammates.
“I did everything for myself, everything for the team,” Williams said. “Just try to better myself and do whatever it is because we want to win a national championship. That’s our ultimate goal. I know if I push myself they would push themselves each and every day in practice and workouts … (And) we can ultimately get that goal.”
Williams and the Buckeyes are set to take on North Dakota State in the second game of the Gotham Classic Saturday at 8:15 p.m. at the Schottenstein Center.