IOWA CITY – When it came to opposing team's scouting reports, Christian Williams' name was certainly highlighted, bolded and circled when he was a standout basketball player at St. Teresa.

Things changed when he got to the University of Iowa as a freshman.

Williams played sparingly in his first year, but learned the ropes behind then-starter Mike Gesell.

When Gesell graduated, Williams seemed primed to move into a starting role. As a 6-foot-5 sophomore with a 6-11 wingspan, he looked like the perfect fit to spearhead head coach Fran McCaffery's three-guard offense.

Seven games into his sophomore season, McCaffery pulled the plug on Williams as his starting point guard and inserted sharp-shooting freshman Jordan Bohannon into the lineup.

"It was kind of difficult at first to handle,” Williams said of losing the starting job, “but as time went on I told myself that coach was going to put the team in the best position and he's going to put the best players out there who he thinks are going to help the team.”

Bohannon went on to average 10.9 points and 5.1 assists per game as a freshman, leaving nearly no doubt who will be the starting point guard this fall.

Williams, on the other hand, averaged 2.4 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

But now he will use his quickness and length this year as a junior to play at all three guard positions in the offense, including the position formerly occupied by standout Peter Jok.

"He's going to play all three spots," assistant coach Kirk Speraw said. "I don't think he'll be primarily a two (guard), primarily a three (guard) or primarily a one (guard). He'll be versatile and can play all three spots."

More importantly, Williams' role will be as a defensive stopper for the Hawkeyes. He's heard himself referenced as such, and as long as his offensive game continues to grow, he's OK with that.

The role took shape last year.

Iowa and Minnesota were coming down to the wire in a game that Iowa lost in double overtime. McCaffery assigned Williams to take on point guard Nate Mason down the stretch. Everyone knew Mason was the Gophers' go-to-guy, and Williams knew he had a job to do that he was fairly familiar with.

“I took pride in being the guy to stop their best player with the last play,” Williams said. “I've been used to guarding teams' best player since high school and AAU, so it was second nature to me.”

There was even a prelude to that Feb. 14 game against Minnesota. A month to the day before that, in a game against Michigan State, Williams swiped the Spartans for three steals in a 31-second span.

He led Iowa in steals eight times and finished third on the team in that category for the season.

Offensively, Williams knows he needs to be more productive. This year, he's looking for his offensive repertoire to click on a few levels.

First, he needed to rebuild his confidence, the same confidence he had at St. Teresa that made him a four-star recruit.

“For a while, there are people who know the type of player that I am, who would say (that the confidence was missing),” Williams said. “That I was playing kind of timid and lacked confidence out there.”

Construction started this summer in the Prime Time League, an Iowa-based league for college athletes. He entered ready to play his own game and telling himself every shot was going in and not getting beat up when they didn't.

Though he wasn't up against Big 10-level talent, Williams did go up against other players from the University of Iowa, Northern Iowa, community colleges in the state and high school standouts.

He averaged 16.2 points, 6.3 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game while shooting 55.3 percent from the floor and 61.1 percent from 3-point land.

The confidence was coming back.

At one point, he put an exclamation point on his summer play with a transition dunk over a defender.

“Just getting out in transition feels like I'm back out there in high school,” Williams said. “Any time I'm fortunate enough to get that, it just helps my confidence even more.”

"Starting things back up in June, he's been terrific and playing to his strengths," Speraw said. "He's very active defensively, getting a lot of deflections and causing havoc on defense. He's rebounding great, he's pushing the ball in transition and making plays for others. He's also shooting the ball with a lot more confidence. I think that's the one area where his confidence is coming in. He's not hesitant looking to take the open looks. He's knocking them down at a high percentage and I think he's made some big strides."

His offensive production will hardly be limited to scoring the basketball. Williams prides himself on his court vision and feel for the game. A new position doesn't mean he won't utilize those skills.

In fact, having a facilitator such as Williams playing as the three-guard will open Bohannon up to play off the ball while getting to his spots on the perimeter --  all the while speeding the game up.

The thought of the lineup has Williams salivating at the potential of a fast-paced game and has Speraw optimistic.

"It's an interesting dynamic with him and Jordan on the floor together," Speraw said. "Christian brings a different dynamic than what Jordan brings. The two of them together, I can see quality minutes being played with both of them on the floor."

While court time has been limited the last two seasons, there wasn't a shortage of growth for Williams. He picked up a better understanding of the game and it's translated to summer practices ahead of the team's trip to Germany next week.

Williams is a point guard by nature, and that comes with distributing the ball at the right times and keeping his teammates comfortable.

“My IQ level, I think, is through the roof,” Williams said. “I kind of notice what our team needs and I know who pretty much needs to get the ball at what time.”

It's been a long two years since Williams took the Bulldogs on a magical run to the Class 2A state championship game. Throughout the process at Iowa, he never felt he had to live up to the level he played in high school.

But he did feel a sense of letdown, not for himself, but for those in Decatur who helped forge his path to the Hawkeyes.

“I think the biggest struggle for me was feeling like I let some people back home down,” Williams said. “That was just the biggest struggle. Just knowing that I wasn't out there doing what I normally did and they were kind of expecting me to be out there. That affected me mentally, knowing I let a couple other people down.”

Eventually, midway through his sophomore campaign, that feeling subsided thanks to talks with his former AAU coach, Gavin Sullivan of the Illinois Irish, and former coach at St. Teresa Tim Noonan.

His goal now is to please himself and be the defensive anchor for the Hawkeyes, much like he was in Noonan's patented 2-3 zone two years ago.


Sports Writer

Sports writer for the Herald & Review.

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