When he took the floor at the Daskalakis Athletic Center in Philadelphia on Jan. 28, Rodney Williams was still removing the rust and shaking off the cobwebs from his springy legs. One game later, he was rocking rims and rattling backboards on Drexel’s home court.
“The biggest thing goes back to Northeastern,” said Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint, of Williams’ first game back after missing eight straight games due to a leg injury, a contest in which the senior struggled from the floor, shooting 2-of-8 en route to four points, four rebounds and three fouls in 26 minutes off the bench.
What the stat line didn’t show was the impact the 6’7” forward made in the Dragons 65-60 come from behind win over Preseason CAA favorite Huskies.
“Even though [Williams] didn’t have a lot of points or a lot of rebounds, because here’s a guy who knows where to be, knows where to go, and it takes a lot of pressure off of the younger guys.”
Despite being just a sophomore, on a roster that includes eight underclassmen and no four-year seniors (seniors Freddie Wilson and Sooren Derboghosian each transferred into the program), Williams has emerged as one of the teams “veterans” – a titled earned by surviving a trial of fire last season being thrown into CAA low-post battles every night.
“He played last year. He was a guy that played a lot of minutes,” said Flint of Williams, who earned CAA All-Rookie honors last season, averaging 5.4 points, 5.0 rebounds and 20.8 minutes in 30 games, earning 18 starts. “Once we got into league play, [he] pretty much started.”
Williams was expected to step up and shoulder a far bigger load as a sophomore for the young and inexperienced Dragons, and played 30 or more minutes in eight of Drexel’s first 11 games, including a 14-point, two block effort on 6-of-9 shooting in 31 minutes in a 72-70 loss at USC.
But a lower leg injury sidelined Williams for the first eight games of CAA play, a stretch in which the Dragons started off 1-4, before winning two of their next three. Williams started off slow in his return against Northeastern and struggled from the field, but according to Flint, his intangibles and leadership were key components to the comeback.
“He ‘get’s it,’” said Flint of Williams. “[He] just has a better understanding of what we’re trying to do.”
One game later, Williams played a far larger role in the Dragons 85-76 win over a UNC Wilmington squad challenging for the CAA title – Drexel’s second straight win against the top of the conference and a win that pulled them to .500 in league play. Williams finished with 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting in 24 minutes, including a high-flying alley-oop slam dunk, and proved to be a handful for UNC Wilmington’s frontcourt all night.
“When you have those types of injuries, the biggest thing is conditioning. And because of the leg injury, conditioning is the thing that really lacks,” explained flind.
“When he starts to feel a bit better from a conditioning standpoint, he can do what he did on Saturday: Score some points, rebound, finish some plays.”
And according to Flint, if the Dragons are going to continue to build momentum and turn their season around, Williams will be a key component.
“He’s definitely big, he knows everything we’re about and gives us a presence on the court and in the locker room we need.”