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Amari Williams brings elite defensive skillset to Kentucky

Zack Geogheganby:Zack Geoghegan04/22/24


Amari Williams is a officially Wildcat. After four seasons at Drexel, the native of Nottingham, England announced his transfer to Kentucky on Sunday. A reigning three-time Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year, Williams is a significant addition to Mark Pope’s first squad in Lexington. The 6-foot-10, 265-pound forward immediately brings a defensive presence (not just blocking shots) inside that the Wildcats have not had in a few years.

During the 2023-24 season at Drexel, Williams averaged 12.2 points, 7.8 rebounds, 1.9 assists, 1.8 blocks, and 0.8 steals in 22.9 minutes per outing. He started all 32 games played for the Dragons and made All-CAA First team along with winning a third DPOY. He has elected to spend his final college season at Kentucky.

For us around the Big Blue Nation, we can fully admit we haven’t watched many Drexel games over the last few seasons. Other than the basic stats or highlight videos we can find online, we truly don’t know exactly what Kentucky is gaining in Williams.

Luckily, Aaron Bracy, who has been covering sports in Philadelphia since 1997 and is currently writing a book on the 2003-04 Saint Joseph’s team, has us covered. Bracy watched Drexel play on several occasions during the 2023-24 season and is as familiar as anyone with college hoops in the Philly area. He gave KSR the lowdown on what Williams’ game will look like going from the CAA to the SEC.

The main thing to know? Williams’ defense is going to translate from day one.

“He is just a dominant physical presence,” Bracy said of Williams. “He has an enormous physical presence in the lane. His defensive stats don’t do justice to his defending ability. Because he’s altering every shot that comes in the lane. I know the SEC is going to be a different level of talent. The CAA has very good talent, it’s a very good league, it’s an underrated league. I have no doubt he’s gonna come in and have a huge impact defensively at Kentucky. His shot-block ability, his athleticism, his timing ability, he doesn’t foul.”

Defensive stats, on the surface, can be tough to gauge when it comes to identifying a truly impactful defender. Below is how Williams has performed in terms of steals and blocks numbers during his three Defensive Player of the Year seasons. He also ranked among the top 40 nationally in block rate during all three, per KenPom.

  • 2021-22: 0.6 steals per game 2.0 blocks per game
  • 2022-23: 1.4 steals per game, 2.2 blocks per game
  • 2023-24: 0.8 steals per game, 1.8 blocks per game

His surface-level numbers on defense have fluctuated a bit over the years, but his reputation never did. Even against non-CAA players, Williams found success on that end of the floor.

“He played Villanova this year against (6-foot-8, 260-pound) Eric Dixon,” Bracy said. “I saw 17 Villanova games in person and every Villanova game pretty much on television. Amari Williams was the only player who would be able to physically — I’m not going to say dominate, dominate is too strong a word — but he was the only player who was able to out-physical Eric Dixon from Villanova. That says something. Eric Dixon played a lot of good players in the Big East, including the big guy at UConn… Amari Williams was the only player that out-physicaled Eric Dixon.”

With a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Williams can influence an opposing offense without blocking shots. He’s long and athletic enough to contest more than his fair share of attempts, altering just as many if not more shots than he actually gets his paws on. He’s also the exact type of player that UK fans have been asking for lately: an older, physical, and stout defender down low. He can defend multiple positions.

“Amari Williams is a man. He is a man,” Bracy added. “He is a man among boys. There is going to be no player in any conference in the country — I don’t care what conference it is — that is going to be physically superior to Amari Williams. His defensive game and his rebounding game are going to translate, no doubt in mind, to the SEC. You could put the most talented player in the SEC driving to the lane, and that person is going to feel Amari Williams’ presence defensively.”

All this being said, we can acknowledge that Williams isn’t a perfect player. His defense deservedly steals the headlines, but his offense leaves some to be desired. Williams is a career 51.9 percent shooter from the field with the vast majority of his scoring opportunities coming right around the rim. He’s a non-factor outside of 10 feet and doesn’t possess much of a post-up game. Williams is a career 63.1 percent free-throw shooter and had more turnovers (213) than assists (162) over the last three seasons, although he has shown some playmaking chops at times that should be emphasized even more under Mark Pope’s offense.

“You can have every high expectation, high optimism for his defense and rebounding, but I would not expect much offensively,” Bracy said. “Most of his offense is going to come off putbacks, second chances, weakside offensive rebounds, that kind of stuff. He does not play the kind of offensive game that today’s college basketball needs.”

Williams will be best suited at Kentucky as a primary center, ideally with plenty of shooters/playmakers surrounding him. Bracy says that Williams has shown the ability to thrive in high ball screens and as a cutter. Lobs and putbacks will be in his wheelhouse. Those looks could be more difficult to come by against SEC competition compared to the CAA, but Williams certainly won’t lack the toughness to get it done.

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