Williams takes charge on UNC’s defense

Fred Jeter | 1/26/2018, 1 p.m.
Kenny Williams III is the Richmond area’s most recent link to arguably the nation’s premier college basketball program.

Kenny Williams III is the Richmond area’s most recent link to arguably the nation’s premier college basketball program.

Williams is now a junior at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. And when he pops a 3-pointer or makes a steal, the excitement is felt all the way back to central Virginia.

The muscular, 6-foot-4, 188-pound Williams dazzled at Chesterfield County’s L.C. Bird High School (1,603 career points) before enrolling on the rebound in Chapel Hill.

The son of Kenny Williams Jr. and Sherri Townes first signed with Virginia Commonwealth University as a high school senior, but changed his mind following the resignation of former Rams Coach Shaka Smart.

Under UNC Coach Roy Williams (no relation to Kenny), the Tar Heels are the defending NCAA champions. UNC’s six national crowns are third behind UCLA, with 11 national titles but none since 1995, and the University of Kentucky, which has eight, only one of which is since 1998. UNC’s titles came in 1957, 1982, 1993, 2005, 2009 and 2017.

Coach Williams clearly has Richmond on his recruiting radar. In 2009, freshman Ed Davis from Benedictine played a key role in the Tar Heels’ national title drive in Detroit.

Williams and Davis are believed to be the only Richmond area athletes ever to play for an NCAA Division I basketball champ.

Unfortunately, Williams watched from the sidelines a year ago as UNC clinched the NCAA basketball title with a victory over Gonzaga University in Glendale, Ariz.

After starting 18 games and playing in 27, he suffered a knee injury on Feb. 14 and underwent season-ending knee surgery on Feb. 21.

Now with a clean bill of health, Williams — wearing Carolina blue jersey No. 24 — is third on the 15-4 team in scoring (12.1 points per game as of Jan. 20), first in steals (23), second in 3-pointers (38) and third in minutes played (29.6 minutes per game).

Even if his shot isn’t falling, Williams is a valuable Tar Heel. He leads the squad in taking charges and been selected Defensive Player of the Game six times.

Here’s what Williams’ backcourt mate, Joel Berry, told Inside Carolina:

“Coach (Williams) has put emphasis on ‘be like Kenny.’ He leads by example and goes out there and plays hard. He does all the things coach wants us to do.”

Leading scorer/rebounder Luke Maye, Williams’ roommate, adds, “Kenny is the kind of guy you love having on your team, but hate to play against.”

Williams, who is averaging 3.4 rebounds and 2.4 assists, has improved his 3-point aim from 34 percent a year ago to 43 percent as a junior.

It’s all about growing confidence, he told the UNC in-house publication.

“I can recall my first two years. I mean, I would miss a couple of shots and not even look to shoot anymore.”

Williams has scored in double figures 15 times, with highs of 20 (with six 3-pointers) against Stanford University and 18 against Florida State University.

His 34 percent accuracy beyond the arc ranks third in the ACC, starting this week.

Being a full-time UNC starter often translates to an NBA contract. Currently 15 former Tar Heels play in the NBA, including Davis, who is with the Portland Trail Blazers.

Will there be another Richmond area athlete on the Tar Heels’ roster anytime soon?

Trinity Episcopal junior Armando Bacot and John Marshall High School sophomore Isaiah Todd already hold UNC scholarship offers.