Rodney Williams' NBA dreams rely on becoming more than just an athlete
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MINNEAPOLIS -- Hype defined the early stages of Rodney Williams' collegiate career.
From his first game with the Minnesota Gophers in 2009, Williams garnered a bounty of praise based largely on the potential onlookers saw from his high-end athleticism. Mock draft sites like NBAdraft.net went as far as to label him a possible high lottery pick.
But after four years of inconsistent play with the Gophers that ranged from dazzling to infuriating, Williams finds himself trying to establish a redefined identity in an effort to convince pro teams he is worthy of a second round pick in the upcoming NBA Draft.
Williams was at the Target Center Wednesday, along with several other likely second round hopefuls, for a group workout in front of the Wolves and representatives from 25 other NBA teams.
With four weeks to go until the draft, defining what position Williams could play in the NBA remains an ongoing issue.
"He's a transition player. He's got to become a perimeter player, rather than an inside player," Timberwolves president of basketball operations Flip Saunders said after Williams' workout. "Ball skills have to improve, shooting skills have to improve. Everyone knows he's always been a great athlete, but at this level you just don't get by on athleticism."
Used out on the wing for the majority of his first two years at Minnesota, he transitioned inside to power forward during his junior season. It was there that Williams turned out the best games of collegiate games (12.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg)., thriving as the Gophers' centerpiece inside player when Trevor Mbakwe suffered a season-ending ACL injury
Back largely at the four again one year later, Williams' senior season started with promise before trailing off towards a disappointing close, averaging 6.5 points in his final nine games.
Williams admits that he thinks back at what could be viewed as missed chances every so often, but in the months since leaving college he has gained a refreshed viewpoint.
"Having my consistency be so up and down during those four years at the U, it was tough to really live up to the expectations," Williams said. "But that's part of it. I signed up to go to college to play ball and I knew all that comes with it. It's just a grind now. I've got to keep working hard so I can go out there and fulfill my dream."
That dream is the NBA, but now it's a matter of finding where he fits in.
At 6-foot-7, 200-pounds, Williams doesn't have the size to be an NBA power forward. He is projected more as a small forward, perimeter player, but for that to work his collegiate average of 11 3-pointers per season at a 25.4 percent clip has to improve drastically. There is also the need to lessen his tendency to float ineffectually out on the wings.
Williams' NBA prospects depend on whether or not he can add another label to his scouting report besides "athlete."
"He's tested out great athletically, but it's a different story when you have to play against people. That's usually how we play games, against people," Saunders quipped. "He's a great athlete, but he probably has to almost play a two at the NBA level because of his size."
Williams has been training in Southern California for the last few months, and was in New Jersey last week for a group workout. Throughout the entire draft process, Williams has maintained his usual upbeat and optimistic mindset, understanding he has much to prove if he wants to hear his name called on June 27th.
"I definitely feel confident," Williams said. "I feel like out here, I had a pretty decent showing and in New Jersey I had a decent showing as well. With these couple workouts coming up here, hopefully somebody sees something that they like in me and hopefully I can sneak on a team somewhere."
Williams has upcoming workouts with the Houston Rockets and the Detroit Pistons. Saunders also said he plans on having Williams back for an upcoming individual session.
• Saunders is expected to be in Las Vegas on Friday for the ASM Pro Day predraft workouts, organized by agent Andy Miller. Former Gophers forward Trevor Mbakwe is on the list of projected prospects, as well as likely second round picks Deshaun Thomas (Ohio State), Peyton Siva (Louisville), Erik Murphy (Florida).
• Saunders said Mbakwe is slated to be in town early in June for an individual workout. Mbakwe turned down an initial invite to this week's group workouts.
• Michigan State coach Tom Izzo, who is friends with Saunders, attended the workouts for the second day in a row, serving largely as a tuned-in resource.
"It's good, because he's seen a lot of these guys play," Saunders said. "He's recruited a lot of these players, seen these guys four years ago. Just talking (to him) about the players helps to give you an insight."
• Saunders still has plans to meet with Wolves guard Ricky Rubio this Saturday in Miami. He is also scheduled to visit with restricted free agent Nikola Pekovic when he travels to Europe for a draft workout in Italy. The Wolves are expected to make attempts at re-signing Pekovic, with the ability to counter any offers he may receive from other teams.
"We expect that he's going to be back," Saunders said. "We feel that he is a vital part of where we're going and we have to try to bring him back."