The natural thing to do, while gazing upon Bryson Williams, is project.
Your eyes see an 18-year-old freshman who stands 6-feet-8 ½ inches (and growing), weighs 225 pounds with arms that reach halfway to the scoreboard and a frame that’s slender but wide in the shoulders.
Looks good in a Fresno State uniform now. Still, it’s impossible not to think about what Williams might look like in a couple years.
“He’s one of those guys … that by the time they’re juniors people go, ‘How did you get him?’ ” assistant coach Jerry Wainwright said. “Because they could start in the Pac-12.”
He’s going to be 15 pounds stronger in the chest, and soon. He eats like a wolverine.
Bulldogs assistant Jerry Wainwright, on Bryson Williams
The Fresno native has already started more games (11) than any true freshman during coach Rodney Terry’s six-year tenure. (Marvelle Harris made six starts in 2012-13). But once senior Karachi Edo regained his eligibility, Williams got relegated to the bench.
With Edo back it was unclear how large a role Williams would have going forward, especially after he played a season-low 4 minutes (with zero points or rebounds) in the Bulldogs’ Mountain West opening loss at New Mexico.
In the two games since, Williams’ production has made plain how valuable a rotation piece he is already – no projections necessary.
During Fresno State’s comeback victory over Nevada, with several NBA personnel on hand to scout Wolf Pack forward Cameron Oliver, Williams crammed 12 points and eight rebounds into 17 minutes of playing time. He followed that Wednesday night with four points and eight rebounds as the Bulldogs topped Wyoming 85-70.
“I started a lot of the games this season and wanted to show Coach Terry I could play like a starter off the bench,” Williams said.
Because Williams was such a big star at Roosevelt High, averaging 33.8 points and 18 rebounds over his career, his transition to the college level has been one of the season’s most intriguing storylines.
33.8 Bryson Williams’ career scoring average at Roosevelt High
Early on, Williams looked nervous and unsure of himself. This was not the North Yosemite League. Stronger, thicker defenders forced him out of position. And when Williams did get the ball inside, he was tentative rather than demonstrative.
Terry, whose relationship with Williams goes back to the forward’s freshman year of high school, called them “high school layups.” He was not being complimentary.
Williams began to settle down during Fresno State’s first road game, an otherwise dim loss to Cal State Bakersfield. Since then he’s been a factor almost every time out. Averaging 15 minutes, he’s scoring 7 points per game and grabbing 3.6 rebounds.
Project those numbers over a starter’s typical 30-plus minutes – there’s the “p” word again – and you get an all-conference performer.
“I knew what to expect (coming from high school), but it was still an adjustment,” Williams said. “I wasn’t finishing layups. I was too urgent and in my head too much, just thinking too much.
“The more experience I got and the more I played in games, it just slowed down. When I started taking my time on things I started playing better.”
It’s a growth curve. Bryson’s a young player that’s growing on the floor and through experience.
Bulldogs coach Rodney Terry
Fresno State doesn’t need Williams to play a starring role this season. Not with two senior bigs (Edo and Cullen Russo) in the starting lineup, plus junior Terrell Carter’s sizable presence.
Still, it’s evident Terry has a lot of faith in Williams’ skills, more so than a typical freshman.
During Saturday’s victory over Nevada, with Russo benched for the first half, Terry rolled out an interesting lineup with Williams playing power forward alongside Carter at center.
This was a notable development because the power forward (or “4”) in Fresno State’s offense, and in more and more offenses nowadays, must do more than just rebound. He must be a decision-maker and facilitator. Ideally, he’s also a 3-point shooter.
“The Draymond Green’s of the world are en vogue,” Wainwright said.
While Williams’ six offensive rebounds in the Nevada game drew the most notice (“Getting extra possessions is a big deal,” Terry said), his lone assist was equally noteworthy.
The first time Williams attempted an entry pass to Carter, he rushed it. The ball got knocked away for a turnover that led to a Wolf Pack fast break.
“That was the right look,” Wainwright said. “Just went through (Carter’s) hands. Glad (Williams) looked there, because that’s where he should.”
In high school, I was the guy attacking the rim. Here you’ve got to actually use your head, use all the skills you’ve acquired.
Next time down the floor, Williams waited until Carter used his 290 pounds to seal off his right-hand side from the defender. He bounced a pass to Carter’s left hand, and the result was the easiest bucket the Bulldogs scored all game.
“Playing the 4 is something that right now is a little earlier in his career than he’s ready for,” Terry said afterward. “Although he gave us good minutes tonight doing it.”
Williams is nowhere close to a finished product. He needs another year of development, time to add 15 pounds of upper-body strength. His outside shot remains a work in progress. (“He’ll make 12 in the row and the next 12 will look totally different,” Wainwright said.) And perhaps no player in the country has a larger discrepancy between his field goal (69.5) and free throw (40.9) percentages.
For now, though, the Bulldogs will gladly take what Williams is currently giving them: energy off the bench, a natural gift for snaring rebounds and inside scoring.
So, yes, go ahead and project. It’s easy to do with a freshman this talented. Just don’t overlook the present.
“What I am now is what matters now,” Williams said.