Dec. 10, 2013
By: Steve Irvine, UABSports.com
The basketball improvements that UAB senior guard Robert Williams made during his time in Birmingham have come after plenty of hard work. The strength he uses on the basketball court was largely built through long hours in the UAB weight room. His jump shot was improved through countless hours of shooting in an empty gym and his basketball skills sharpened during his time listening to and learning from his coaches at UAB.
However, there is one vital part to Williams’ game – true grit – that he brought to town with him. It’s a grit that was born and raised in his hometown of Greenville, Miss. and honed while battling bigger players in the post during his days on the Weston High basketball team. Without the gritty attitude, he would still be a good basketball player but he certainly couldn’t play the same role he has at UAB.
“I think the reason I’m not intimidated by anyone is by my upbringing,” Williams said. “Coming from where I’m from, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. I played the post in high school. I was the biggest guy on the team and played the five spot. I was going up against taller guys than me. I can’t have any fear in my heart. That helped me out on the collegiate level as well, being able to rebound, and not looking at the size of the guys. Everybody is the same. I don’t think I ever had fear in my heart of an opponent.”
When it comes to the handling the dirty work, which some consider things like rebounding and hustling for loose basketballs, few handle it with the enthusiasm of the 6-foot-4, 210-pound fifth-year senior. He’s one of the best rebounding guards in the country, according to UAB head coach Jerod Haase, with a good chunk of the damage done on the offensive boards. Heading into Sunday’s game against Georgia Southern, Williams is averaging 6.4 rebounds with 26 of his 58 rebounds coming on the offensive end.
Although Williams is not known for his scoring, he is also become a very capable offensive threat during his time at UAB. It was 3-pointer at the buzzer which beat Rice in 2011-12 and he hit 32 3-pointers last season. He scored in double figures in five consecutive games at one point this season and is averaging 9 points per game. But, turn on the game film, and that’s not what jumps out.
“It’s almost every game that there’s one rebound or loose ball that he has no business getting and with that determined attitude that he has, he ends up coming up with them,” Haase said.
In other words, stop after merely looking at stats, including rebounding numbers, and you fail to grasp the full impact Williams is making on a team that is 7-2.
“Sometimes, what he does for this team doesn’t show up in a box score but without him we’d be missing a huge part of the team,” said senior Jordan Swing. “He brings it every time he steps on the court and that’s one thing I love about Rob. You don’t see him take his opportunities for granted.”
Haase certainly doesn’t take Williams’ contributions for granted, calling Williams a “great teammate.”
‘He’s one to accept any role on the team – if it’s a scoring role, if it’s a defending their best player role, if it’s being a great teammate or leader role, whether it’s not playing,” Williams said. “It doesn’t matter, he wants to be helping the team any way he can. He not only says that but he generally means it. I think because of his work ethic he’s gained a lot of respect from the players.”
As a team captain, Williams understands the importance of being a vocal leader. Much of what he does, though, is leading by example. It’s hard for his teammates not to respond after seeing Williams muscle a rebound away from a bigger opponent or go up in a group of taller players and come away with a rebound. It’s hard for his teammates not to want a floor burn of their own after watching Williams dive for a loose basketball. And it’s hard to play passively on defense when they see Williams battling on that end of the floor.
“As a captain, you can’t expect something from a teammate that you’re not doing,” Williams said. “For example, I can’t tell Rod Rucker to go hard every day if I’m not going hard every day. That’s how you get the respect from them, by doing everything you ask them to do.”
For Williams, playing hard is the only way he knows, no matter the setting. His belief is to play as hard as possible, no matter who is on the opposite bench or how many people are watching. He laughs at the memory of playing his typical style in a pickup game in California one summer.
“The guys in California are pretty different,” Williams said. “They are real finesse, don’t really go hard. One guy was like “Oh man, you’re fouling every play, that’s not basketball.” I think the guys down here, they know I go hard. They just embrace it.”
Williams is embracing his final trip through college basketball. The fifth-year senior already holds a degree in Mass Communications and has begun work on another undergraduate degree. He hopes to begin a master program in sports psychology after his basketball days are complete but is not ready to think about that right now.
“It feels like I’ve been here forever,” said Williams, who arrived at UAB in 2009. “I’ve seen a lot of stuff. Coming up under Coach (Mike) Davis is a blessing, playing for a guy like Coach Haase is a blessing. I’m just happy to be in the situation I’m in. With my teammates, I’m going to continue to look forward, take one day at a time.”