When you go to a Drexel basketball game, it’s hard not to notice a certain aspect of the Dragons’ starting lineup introductions. Most of the players run generically through the gauntlet as freshman Kris Alford awaits at the end. Kari Jonsson gives Alford a chest bump while Sammy Mojica just gives a quick high five and hug. But Rodney Williams catches most people’s eyes. After his run through the gauntlet, Williams runs five feet past Alford, turns around, and bends down, before rolling his shoulders back and forth comfortably as Alford pretends to snap a photo. This is 100% representative of how Williams has played this season: cool, creative, and mighty smooth.
The Drexel Dragons began the year as one of the bigger surprises in the Philadelphia City 6. After finishing last season 6-25 and losing six players, including four of their top six scorers, the 2016-17 season didn’t look to promising. But the Dragons have already surpassed their win total from last season at 9-20. While their record may not look good, the Dragons have competed night in and night out. It has been clear that while they might not be the best in the CAA, they are significantly in front of schedule.
A large part of their success has been thanks to Williams. The senior forward has provided instant offensive and defensive versatility in a career year. On offense, he has primarily played in the post, but has often been forced to the perimeter as a result of Drexel’s offense. It’s no problem as Williams has worked to improve his ability to attack the basket and knock down the open jump shot. In the post, Williams is one of the most polished in the CAA. His improvements as a whole over the last 4 years are hard to ignore.
While playing on a consistent basis his freshman season, Williams averaged 5.4 points per game and shot 51.8% from the field. He boasted a rebounding percentage of 13.7% and a defensive box plus/minus of 3.1 (both highs for his career). In a frontcourt without many solidified big men, Williams proved himself to be a reliable piece despite his age.
As a result, he earned himself more minutes the next year, averaging 30 minutes per game (10 more than the season before). However, in his second season, teams knew Williams’ name, and he saw his production drop. He shot a mere 43% from the field, 59% from the free throw line, and averaged less than 3 more points per game than he did his freshman season (5.4 to 8.2), despite playing 10 more minutes. Although Williams saw his rebounds jump to 7 per game, which is still the highest to this point in his career, his offensive output was not what people around the organization had anticipated.
In 2015-16, after an underwhelming year, Williams bounced back, averaging 10.5 points per game and bringing his field goal percentage up to a respectable 45.7%. However, it was towards the end of the season where Williams really came alive. After only having 8 double-digit scoring games in his first 23 games, he had 6 double-digit scoring games in the last 8 games of the season. By the end of the year, it was clear Williams was ready to lead as a senior, but his play this season has surely surpassed expectations.
After years of playing behind Damion Lee and Tavon Allen, Williams finally has the team to himself. Despite often being undersized, Williams is quick, clever, and comfortable in the post. This had led him to career high averages in points, field goal percentage, three-point percentage (made his first this season), free throw percentage, assists, and steals. At 16.2 points per game, 6.7 rebounds, and a field goal percentage of 52.8% Williams has been one of the best overall offensive players in the CAA. After only having 2 20-point games his first three seasons (82 games) at Drexel, the big man has compiled 10 in this season alone (29 games).
In specific, Williams’ ability to score in the post has been his bread and butter. He is quick, long, and polished, helping him shoot nearly 54% from two-point range, his highest mark of his career. More impressively, Williams has done a magnificent job getting to the free throw line. Thanks to his seasoned post moves and added game from the perimeter, Williams has shot 179 free throws this season, averaged 6.2 attempts per game, and is shooting 68.2% from the line. His total free throw attempts ranks him first in the City 6, 50 more than the next person, Villanova’s Josh Hart. Getting to the line has given him the opportunity to get easy points. His tenacity and endless attacking of the basket puts pressure on the opposing team’s big men to either foul or allow an easy basket.
Williams’ operating out of the post have also opened up scoring opportunities for the team’s guards. Opponents have to sink in on Williams, leaving open shots and driving lanes. Williams has no problem finding the open man too.
“He’s good not only as a scorer, but as a passer,” La Salle coach John Giannini acknowledged after their win over Drexel in November, “so we just tried to make it hard for him to get the ball.”
Thanks to his passing and ability to draw in the defense, two of Drexel’s starting guards, Kurk Lee and Kari Jonsson, are shooting 40% or above from three.
Additionally, what most people can’t see from the stat sheet, is Williams’ valuableness on the defensive end. Because of his combination of quick feet, lean body, and tall frame, Williams can cover the opposing team's best off-ball guards and/or big men.
Against La Salle, Williams had the tough order of sticking BJ Johnson, who is currently averaging 18 points per game. Despite struggling offensively, Williams helped hold Johnson to 12 points, his third lowest total on the season, and 5 turnovers, tied for his highest total of the season. Against Penn, Williams even went as far as sticking guards Matt MacDonald and Ryan Betley. While those two guards don’t have the offensive prowess of Johnson, it shows Zach Spiker’s, Drexel’s head coach, trust in Williams to cover the other team’s guards despite being 6-foot-7.
All in all, Rodney Williams has proved himself this season to be one of the most versatile big men in the City 6 and CAA. Thanks to his silky smooth play, he has helped Drexel play to their competition every single game. He has undoubtedly been the team’s most valuable player and his production cannot be overlooked.
Photo: Drexel University Athletics
-Drexel loses to Charleston in the quarterfinal of the CAA tournament