Williams leads way for SDSU
Much like the South Dakota State basketball team that he plays for, Kai Williams is young but gaining experience. As a freshman last year, he was named to the Division I independent all-newcomer team. Last summer, he played for Team Canada at the...
Much like the South Dakota State basketball team that he plays for, Kai Williams is young but gaining experience.
As a freshman last year, he was named to the Division I independent all-newcomer team. Last summer, he played for Team Canada at the FIBA Under-19 World Championships in Serbia.
"It was a great experience," said Williams, who averaged 14 points and nearly six rebounds for a Team Canada team that placed 12th out of 16 teams.
"It was different, especially playing in games with the 24-second shot clock," said Williams, a Regina, Sask., native. "You really have no choice but to be more aggressive on the offensive end. You have to be able to make a play by yourself sometimes, in order to get a shot off."
Williams is getting his shots off at South Dakota State, a 7-12 team that will play 10-9 North Dakota State tonight in a Summit League showdown at the Bison Sports Arena.
For the second straight season, the 6-foot-6 Williams is the Jackrabbits' leading scorer, averaging 14 points per game. Fellow sophomore Garrett Callahan averages 13 points.
Meanwhile, Scott Nagy - in his 13th season as SDSU's head coach - is playing three seniors who play anywhere from 12 to 25 minutes a game and four freshmen who average 12 to 33 minutes of playing time.
They're young, but gaining experience.
"We are playing four freshmen a lot and no one else in the league is doing that," Nagy said. "We are very inexperienced, but still we are way better than last year."
This year's Jackrabbits have already surpassed last year's win total of six. Nine of their 12 losses have been by nine points or less - including a 78-72 loss last month at the University of Minnesota, the same Gophers team that blasted the Bison 88-56.
"They gave the Gophers all they could handle," said Saul Phillips, NDSU's first-year head coach who was an assistant the previous three years. "This is their best team since I've been here."
Last year, the Bison beat the Jackrabbits twice - marking their first season sweep since the 1990-91 season. This year, with both teams reaching the midway point of their first season in the Summit League, the Bison sit in fifth place with a 4-4 league record while the Jackrabbits are in last place at 2-6.
"You can't look at their record," said Bison guard Ben Woodside. "It's a lot better than it shows."
The junior trio of Woodside (the league's leading scorer), Brett Winkelman (the fourth-leading scorer) and Mike Nelson (the 11th-leading scorer) are obvious concerns for SDSU. But Nagy is also worried how his young guards will handle NDSU's defensive pressure.
"It seems now that they (the Bison) are starting to pressure teams more and we have struggled with that," said Nagy, whose team ranks last in the league in turnover margin. "That's what is killing us."
What has helped SDSU is a stronger inside game with the return of seniors Ben Beran and Mohamed Berte. The 6-7 Beran sat out last season following the death of his father while the 6-8 Berte sat out last season before charges were dropped in a sexual assault case.
What has also helped is the continued improvement of Williams, who ranks 12th in Summit League scoring and first in Summit League rebounding.
"Rebounding is one of the things I tried to work on," Williams said. "You just have to play at a higher energy level and go after those rebounds."
Something that comes with experience.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Kevin Schnepf at (701) 241-5549
Schnepf's NDSU media blog can be found at www.areavoices.com