Two and a half years ago, I was sitting at home preparing to choose what college was the best fit for me. My final two schools that I had left were the University of Wisconsin and the University of Minnesota. These two schools are extremely similar in all respects. So, what swayed me to choose Minnesota over Wisconsin? Well, in all honestly, it was Tubby Smith. Coming from the land of cheese, I knew of Smith’s success over his career, and I also knew the type of basketball that he would enforce in the Twin Cities was a lot more exciting than Bo Ryan. I guarantee that Wisconsin would’ve been the destination for me, and I wouldn’t have gone to Minnesota if the basketball team didn’t become successful again and become relevant.
Smith, a great hire by AD Joel Maturi, added life to the Barn of Williams Arena. After both Rodney Williams and Royce White committed to the Golden Gophers, my choice was also set in stone. On my own signing day, I put on the Minnesota cap and smiled to the camera hoping that a National Title was in the future.
The Barnyard drooled over a recruiting class of Williams, White, Trevor Mbakwe, and others. It was probably the best recruiting class, in terms of ratings, ever to come to the U.
And then 2009-2010 occurred. White never got onto the floor because of multiple legal troubles including a theft at the Mall of America. Mbakwe was still trying to put the pieces together to his case that happened in Miami. And, tragically, Williams didn’t live up to the hype after the first month and fell out of favor by Smith. After White transferred along with two others, the basketball team morphed into a new identity: an identity that relied on the consistency of Williams at the small forward position.
So, who is Rodney Williams?
It seems that the Big Ten still doesn’t know who this player is, where he came from, and what he means to the Golden Gophers.
The small forward out of New Hope, Minnesota chose to play closer to home for the Gophers rather than schools that were looking at him like Connecticut, Kansas, and Wisconsin. He is a quiet, humble guy with a huge smile with a passion to play the sport of basketball.
Williams is a type of player that NBA Scouts faint over. He is a high-flying, high-ceiling basketball stud that has been compared to NBA players like DeMar DeRozan and the legendary Vince Carter. The explosive athleticism that Williams offers a Big Ten team like Minnesota is potentially a game-changer each and every game.
He is also the type of player that fills up the stat sheet in everyway. The defensive presence that Williams brings to the court is years beyond his age.
The biggest flaw that Williams has in his game is the most important thing in basketball. The jump shot. While Williams is deadly when he decides to drive to the paint, he is a disaster in shooting the 20-footer at the top of the key. It’s that flaw that allows teams to focus less on him and more on players like Mbakwe. This allows for three to four moments a game where Williams is wide open for a mouth-watering slam.
He is a game-changer in the making.
Before the season, NBA Draft scouts had Williams rated to be chosen in the late lottery picks in the upcoming draft in June. Since then, he has fallen off of the Big Board and has stated that he will return next season to play for the Golden Gophers for his junior season.
Williams brings hope to the Twin Cities where nothing seemed to go right lately. The Gophers were trounced in football, and the basketball team faded drastically down the stretch. The professional teams were almost as inept. The Vikings relied heavily on a quarterback who is currently waiting for his AARP card. The Twins ended their last campaign with ‘Property of the New York Yankees’ permanently inked on their backsides. The Minnesota Wild looked like the Gophers basketball team the last month and a half of the season. And, the Timberwolves…? They capped the terrors of the Twin Cities with a 15-game losing streak to end the season.
So, it is up to players with Williams to put the team on his back as they search for a new identity with new leaders. The University of Minnesota still trusts Williams enough to have aspiration that the next season for the Golden Gophers is like the first half of the season, and not the second half.
Here’s hoping that Williams Arena becomes Rodney Williams Arena for the next two seasons.