MANHATTAN — As the highest-rated player in Kansas State’s basketball recruiting class two years ago, Nino Williams expected to play right away for the Wildcats.
After maturing as a player late during his senior year of high school and shooting up the national recruiting rankings, he earned a four-star rating from Rivals.com.
Expectations followed him to college. Right or wrong, he is still trying to live up to them.
So far he has had two difficult years at K-Sate. Two concussions forced him to redshirt midway through his first season, and a sprained MCL prevented him from impressing former coach Frank Martin last season. He rarely played.
But things are starting to look up for Williams. New coach Bruce Weber praised him during offseason practices, and he helped K-State in every area during its first exhibition game against Washburn. Williams led all scorers with 14 points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“It was a good feeling playing,” Williams said.
He needs to get used to his new role this season. Weber considers him one of the Wildcats’ first options off the bench. He should see significant action again on Sunday in K-State’s second exhibition game against Emporia State.
It’s coming later than he anticipated, but Williams is excited for his teammates to rely on him.
“I really feel like I have fresh start right now,” Williams said a few weeks ago. “I felt like my freshman year, I could have played a lot but I got two concussions. I was messed up and I back-tracked. Last year, I should have played more than I did. It is what it is. This year, me being healthy and getting in better shape, I should have a good chance to get out on the court and play.
“My body feels good again, like when I was coming out of high school.”
Weber likes what a healthy Williams can do for K-State’s offense. At 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds, he has the size to play several positions. At times, he handles the ball on the perimeter and plays like a wing. Other times, he posts up and plays like a power forward.
With 7-footers Adrian Diaz and Jordan Henriquez starting inside, Williams gives K-State a much different look when he comes in off the bench. He can draw opposing post players away from the basket, and defend inside and out.
“Nino has been very active for us,” Weber said. “He gives us a different look.”
After two long years, Williams is more than happy to do so, at any position.
“I’m playing mainly the four, but I guard everybody,” Williams said. “I can rebound with fours, but offensively I can score against fours or threes. It doesn’t really matter. As long as I play, I’m happy.”