Nino Williams can’t tell you what the highlight moment of his senior season has been.
He doesn’t think about such things.
“Once the game is over, it’s over and I’m thinking about the next one,” Williams said. “I don’t really think about the last game.”
That mindset is a major reason why the 6-foot-5 forward is playing the best basketball of his life.
After three seasons of sporadic contributions, Williams has transformed into a go-to player. He is averaging 12.8 points and 5.1 rebounds, he has scored at least 10 points in four consecutive games and he has led K-State in scoring in three of the past four games. Following a victory over Savannah State in which he scored a career-high 20 points and grabbed seven rebounds, K-State coach Bruce Weber called him the Wildcats’ best player. The Big 12 also took notice, naming him conference player of the week.
Williams has shown flashes of this type of play before, but never with this much consistency.
What changed? Williams says the explanation is simple.
“I just think I’m playing and not really thinking about anything,” Williams said. “I’m not thinking about scoring. I’m not thinking about rebounding, I’m just playing. Luckily, the ball has been going my way. I have been trying to rebound more and I have been scoring more. It’s weird.”
Those who know Williams best, think the opposite. They describe his improvement as predictable, and offer three reasons why.
For starters, Williams is healthier than he has been since high school. A pair of concussions forced him to redshirt as a freshman and nagging knee injuries slowed him all the way up to K-State’s third game of this season, but he is now playing with extra bounce in his step.
“He would have had success like this earlier, but his body held him back,” said Matt Suther, Williams’ former AAU coach with Mokan Elite. “Now he is healthy and he is really rolling. He’s doing a lot of things he used to do in high school, just figuring out ways to score.”
Secondly, Williams has learned how to avoid foul trouble, allowing him to play 20 or more minutes in all eight of his games.
Perhaps most importantly, he never tries to do too much.
His favorite shot is a jumper from the baseline, and when that isn’t open he tries to find space in the defense for routine layups. He is also good at attacking the basket, which has earned him 38 trips to the free-throw line.
“He has figured out where to score from,” K-State associate head coach Chris Lowery said. “You don’t have to run a play for him. He just gets stuff done.”
K-State coach Bruce Weber has long urged Williams to embrace that role. He finally has.
“I think he understood it before, he just wasn’t as good at it,” Weber said. “He needed to execute it. Now he understands it. I have always said, ‘It is one thing for your coach to give you the role. It’s another thing for you to embrace the role and take pride in the role and then execute the role.’ I think that is what he is doing right now.”
Weber could tell Williams was headed in the right direction last summer, when he spent more time than ever before in K-State’s training facility. He was practicing and playing with a new level of urgency, and that carried over to the season. Coaches say he is routinely the first player to arrive for practice, occasionally showing up three hours early to work on his shot.
“He is a happy camper,” Lowery said.
So happy that he has big visions for the future. Not even winning Big 12 Player of the Week was enough to make him look back.
“It was cool, but I also know it’s something early in the season,” Williams said. “I am really not too hyped about it. It is cool to win it. I know a lot of guys who have won it in the past, but I want to win one during conference play. It was pretty cool, but it’s over now. It’s a new week.”
Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
When: 6 p.m. Sunday
Where: Sprint Center, Kansas City, Mo.
Records: TAMU 7-2, KSU 6-4
Radio: KQAM, 1480-AM; KWLS, 107.9-FM
Texas A&M vs. Kansas State
Texas A&M (7-2): The Aggies have built their winning record against mostly inferior competition. Their best victories came against New Mexico and Arizona State, while their losses came against Baylor and Dayton. Texas A&M has not played K-State since 2012, when both teams were in the Big 12. The Aggies have a big roster. All five of their starters are 6-foot-5 or taller.
Kansas State (6-4): The Wildcats have had a week off since their victory over Savannah State. They spent that time practicing and building toward stronger competition. Thomas Gipson could be key against Texas A&M. The senior forward has not played up to his usual standards in recent games, with Weber saying he is trying to do too much. Weber wants Gipson to play happy and without stress against the Aggies. K-State played well in its last regular-season trip to Sprint Center, beating Florida in Weber’s first season.