By Nate Allen
FAYETTEVILLE – Defensively because of his charge-taking and rebounding and now offensively, too, as a shooter already among the league’s best passing big men, Arkansas sophomore Jaylin Williams has gained big-time recognition.
It got bigger Monday. The SEC Office in Birmingham, Ala. recognized the 6-10, 240 center/forward from Fort Smith Northside as SEC Co-Player of the Week for his career high 19 points plus nine rebounds performance in helping the Razorbacks defeat South Carolina last week at Walton Arena and his 14-points/11 rebounds double plus three shot-blocks and career high six steals in last Saturday’s 76-73 overtime victory over Texas A&M at Walton.
Williams was named SEC Co-Player of the Week along with Auburn center Walker Kessler. Kessler last week loomed large in No. 2 Auburn defeating Georgia and Kentucky last week.
Arkansas’ successive SEC successes last week added to SEC victories over Missouri at Walton and at then No. 12 LSU have advanced Arkansas, 14-5 overall, to 4-3 in the SEC after an 0-3 SEC start heading into Wednesday’s 6 p.m. SEC Network televised SEC game in Oxford, Miss. against the Ole Miss Rebels.
“Certainly proud and happy J-Will got named co-player of the week,” Arkansas Coach Eric Musselman said during his Monday press conference. “That’s a great honor in a league that’s got a lot of great players.”
Williams has become one of them as Musselman anticipated.
“I think that when we looked at our team and throughout the summer, really, I thought that he was going to make a big jump,” Musselman said. “You want players from their freshman to their sophomore year to come back way more confident. Jaylin has even talked about the shape he was in coming into last year compared to this year. He’s in much better shape. The weight has changed that much, but it’s the distribution. It’s strength. Is he having a great year? Yes. Is he doing some things I don’t know if we ever envision our center having six steals … I think he’s where we hoped he would be — having a huge impact, being a guy we totally rely on in so many different areas. I think his progression has been phenomenal.”
A center unless playing power forward when 7-3 junior Connor Vanover is employed at center, Williams recently became part of Arkansas’ overall biggest starting lineup even with Vanover not starting.
That’s because instead of starting two or even three true guards Musselman has started combo guard JD Notae on the point with Williams and versatile 6-6 forwards Au’Diese Toney, Stanley Umude and Trey Wade then bringing guards Devo Davis and Chris Lykes off the bench.
Toney, built to be a small forward but, able to play power forward or off guard, has done most of the off-guard work when just one true guard is employed.
The supposedly unnatural fits at off guard or power forward suit Toney better than small forward, Musselman believes.
“Often times what’s a player’s natural position doesn’t mean that’s the natural mismatch,” Musselman said. “So Au’Diese’s more of a mismatch when he’s at the 4 (power forward) or when he’s at the 2 (off guard). He’s got a natural mismatch on a nightly basis. Because he’s as good an off-guard rebounder at the off-guard spot. You play him at the small forward spot and there’s a lot of guys his size in this league at that spot.”
The Hogs started winning this lineup for starters.
“Certainly the starting lineup has helped give us an identity that’s unique,” Musselman said.
The Hogs not only have rebounded better but surprisingly cut down on the live ball turnovers so vexing them during the late December/early January stretch going 1-5.
“ think a lot of that is just staying within your game,” Musselman said. “Au’Diese knows he can make spot-up threes. He knows he’s a really good cutter. He’s not going to dribble-drive into traffic. What we haven’t had with this new lineup is we haven’t had as many careless turnovers in transition. We haven’t been charging over people as much as we maybe were in the past.
The passing has been on time and on target a little bit better maybe than what it was earlier.”
Presumably Athletic Director Hunter Yurachek, Musselman or some UA higher up will have a discussion with the UA’s marketing and or game management department.
The premature turning off the power and flashing an indoor celebratory display with 1.2 seconds on the game clock of Arkansas’ still contested overtime victory over Texas A&M appeared to have A&M coaches pleading for a technical foul.
Referees rightfully were utmost concerned with accurately starting the clock in time with Umude’s not quite game-finishing dunk than the lights doused, but it never sure have been an issue opened for debate.
It just looks foolish when teams prematurely dump Gatorade on a coach that appears victorious but then isn’t.
But it could become devastatingly outcome altering interfering with the game itself.