No. 6 North Carolina enters this season already under a microscope, as questions swirl around the team’s ability to replace superstars Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson.
And junior Theo Pinson — one of the team’s strongest defensive players — is out indefinitely with a foot injury, leading to uncertainty about how to fill his gap in the starting lineup.
So, the Tar Heels need guard Kenny Williams to make the leap in his sophomore campaign.
“I always say, I think the biggest jump is from some guys’ freshman year to his sophomore year,” Coach Roy Williams said. “Whether it’s Joel Berry last year, I hope it’s the same way for Kenny and Luke (Maye) this year.”
Kenny Williams saw limited action in his first year, averaging just over four minutes per game in 30 games. But with Pinson’s injury, the sophomore guard expects an increase in playing time. He, senior Nate Britt, and first-year Brandon Robinson are all vying to be thrown into a more prominent roll.
“I’m sure if we keep playing like this, it’ll be a tough decision for (Coach),” Kenny Williams said. “But whoever does get (the starting position), I don’t think it’ll be a big drop-off between who gets it and who’s coming off the bench.”
After the scrimmage against Memphis on October 29th, Roy Williams and his staff selected four players who excelled in their play. Kenny Williams was among them.
After being plagued by shooting troubles last year — making just one 3-pointer all season — the Virginia native believes his offseason work and comfort in the system will translate into increased production.
“I didn’t have all of the confidence in myself in the world, so I think that forced my game to dip a little bit,” he said.
“But that’s what I’ve been focusing on: just keeping confident even if I miss a couple shots.”
Kenny Williams was recruited out of high school as a four-star prospect with excellent perimeter defense. In the 2016 conference championship game against Virginia, he held ACC Player of the Year Malcolm Brogdon to one field goal and forced a turnover during a six-minute stretch.
Kenny Williams did not start in the exhibition game against UNC-Pembroke on Nov. 4, with Coach Williams opting to give that spot to Britt.
But Kenny Williams impressed in the game, totaling 10 points, three rebounds and two 3-pointers in 16 minutes of play.
With Pinson out, the Tar Heels are going to rely on Kenny Williams to capitalize on his defensive skill set.
“On defense, he’s just an aggressive guy, and that’s what we need,” Berry said. “At the end of the day, if you want to play, you have to play defense. And I think that’s one thing that he’s showing Coach.”
Roy Williams called the sophomore a complete player, despite his shooting woes last season. This year, Kenny Williams is prepared to prove that basketball is as mental as it is physical.
And with increased confidence this year, the sophomore is ready to make the leap.