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Williams’ return to Louisville for senior season prompted by cancelations of ACC, NCAA tourneys

By Russ Brown
Kentucky Today

Malik Williams was wavering between testing the NBA waters for this year’s draft or definitely returning to Louisville for his senior season. The abrupt end of the college basketball season made his decision for him.

“It was something I thought about throughout the entire year, being a junior and looking forward to taking that next step,” Williams said during a teleconference with media from his home in Fort Wayne, Ind.

But then the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA tournaments were cancelled, limiting Williams’ ability to impress NBA scouts and possibly work out for some teams, thus making a return to school to boost his pro stock more attractive.

Malik Williams is returning to Louisville for his senior season. The 6-foot-11 post player averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds per game as a junior. (Photo courtesy of UofL)

“I felt how the season and everything went, how the process broke down, how we finished up and seeing how teams weren’t able to work players out and seeing how everything is now, I just decided it would be better for me to focus on next year,” he said. “And thinking about the chance for me to get a degree. Every day for the past few years made me want one more and more.

“So there were a lot of factors in me not testing the waters and just coming back to school. If we had been able to keep playing and were able to do a lot of things in the (NCAA) Tournament, I might have been in a different situation.”

At the time, the 6-foot-11 center was recovering from a sprained ankle suffered early in a game against Florida State in Tallahassee on Feb. 24 that limited him the last two games of the regular season. He didn’t play against Virginia Tech on March 1 and was able to last only seven minutes in the season finale at Virginia on March 7, getting one rebound and no points.

Nevertheless, Williams planned on trying to play against Syracuse in the ACC quarterfinals in Greensboro, N.C., on March 12, the day the tourney was canceled.

“I was trying to get my ankle right and get out there and ,” he said. “That was really my main focus, trying to get to where I was 100 percent to play with the guys. I was feeling pretty good, but I wouldn’t have been at 100 percent.”

Six weeks later, Williams still isn’t there. He continues to undergo physical therapy in Ft. Wayne to strengthen his left ankle. To stay in shape as much as possible, he lifts weights and follows a conditioning program set up by UofL basketball strength and conditioning coach Andy Kettler. With all the gyms closed due to Indiana’s shelter in place policy to combat the coronavirus pandemic, he has rarely even touched a basketball.

As the returning front-line player with by far the most experience and the only senior on a roster that will include six sophomores, two incoming freshmen and two graduate transfers, Williams will be asked to play a huge role for the Cardinals next season. He will be relied on not only for his scoring and rebounding but also as a leader.

He has lots of experience in that department, too, because his teammates often referred to him as their most vocal, outspoken leader last year. Freshman guard David Johnson called him the team’s “alpha.” And with so many more young players, Williams figures it will be even more important for him to be the Pied Piper next season.

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He added, however, that he hasn’t put much thought into how much he’d like to raise his production and playing time. Last year he split the center position with Steven Enoch, moving into the starting lineup in the 27th game, and averaged 8.5 points and 6.1 rebounds

“I believe I’ve just got to keep following my path,” Williams said. “Over the last year I believe I grew, and a lot of it (leadership) just came natural to me. I have to be very consistent, show consistency to the young guys, that’s where it starts. No plays off, the mentality like that, doing all the right things all the time. Being somebody they can look to as a leader they should follow.”

CARDS INTERESTED IN WAKE FOREST SIGNEE: Still searching for another big man to provide front line help for 2020-21 with one scholarship remaining, UofL coach Chris Mack and his staff have reached out to 6-11 power forward Jaylon Gibson, who had signed with Wake Forest but reopened his recruiting after coach Danny Manning was fired over the weekend.

ESPN’s Jeff Borzello has reported that Houston, Iowa, Maryland, Miami, North Carolina-Wilmington, Providence, South Florida and Syracuse have also contacted Gibson. He asked to be released from his letter of intent and will be eligible to play immediately. Gibson averaged 16.0 points, 11.1 rebounDs and 2.7 assists last season for Grace Christian School in Raleigh, N.C.

Russ Brown covers University of Louisville sports for Kentucky Today.

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