BYU basketball: Rudi Williams hopes to get to NCAA Tournament

Kansas State guard Rudi Williams dribbles during game against Oklahoma, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Norman, Okla.

Kansas State guard Rudi Williams dribbles during game against Oklahoma, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Norman, Okla. Now a BYU Cougar, Williams is eager to help Cougars reach the NCAA Tournament in 2023.

Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

Though he won’t play for BYU when the program joins the Big 12 in 2023-24, transfer guard Rudi Williamswill be helping his teammates prepare for what’s coming as they join the nation’s toughest basketball conference. 

Before spending last season at Coastal Carolina, Williams played at Big 12 program Kansas State. He knows all about the Big 12. 

It’s going to be a transitional year for coach Mark Pope and the Cougars. And Williams, who has one year of eligibility remaining, is looking forward to his role in assisting BYU in the jump to the Big 12.  

“They got me better. They didn’t try to change me into a player that I wasn’t. They threw out the ball for me and let me go.” — Rudi Williams on his one year playing for Coastal Carolina

“A good season would be a major confidence boost for the guys that are coming back, heading into the Big 12,” Williams said. “With my experience playing in the Big 12, I can go ahead and say it probably is the best conference in the country. If we have a good year, I’m sure all the guys will be motivated to do more and have more success. Us being good will definitely help them do that and be better.”

For Williams, this will mark his final season of college basketball. And he has a number of goals he’d like to achieve. 

“I want to get as good as I can be and prepare myself for the professional level. I want to do something unique. I want to hang a banner,” he said. “I want to win something — a conference championship or make a run in the (NCAA) tournament. I’ve yet to play in March Madness and that’s definitely a goal of mine. You can’t do that without winning. I want to be as good of a player as I can, be the best version of myself and see how much I can develop.”

‘Late bloomer’

The 6-foot-2, Williams is a Hamilton, Ontario, native. While he played well in high school, he had a tough time attracting attention from college recruiters in the United States. 

“Coming out of Canada, I would say I was a late bloomer when it comes to basketball,” Williams said. “In high school, I wasn’t getting recruited too much. A lot of D-IIs and junior college. My goal was to play Division I — a big stage.”

Williams signed with Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, where he spent two seasons. He earned NJCAA Second Team All-America and Region II Player of the Year honors after leading the country in assists. He finished with 24 double-doubles and six triple-doubles. 

“Choosing to go the junior college route bought me extra time to prove that I was good enough to play on that stage and at that level,” he said. “Junior college, I had two good years there. We won a lot of ballgames and I got better and developed as a player and as a person, too.” 

After junior college, Williams continued his career at Kansas State. He was recruited to KSU during the pandemic, so he didn’t get to experience traditional recruiting visits.

“My year at Kansas State was very educational. I learned a lot,” he said. “It was a great experience. I played against the best of the best. It prepared me to do what I did this year and then it also prepared me to do what I’ll do in the future.”

With the Wildcats, Williams appeared in 27 games, with four starts. He averaged 4.8 points, 2.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game. He ranked fifth on the team in 3-pointers, hitting at least one 3-pointer in 11 games, including a season-high four in a victory over Milwaukee.

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Kansas State’s Rudi Williams (5) and Antonio Gordon (11) react from the bench during game against Iowa State, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. Williams will be playing his final year of college basketball in Provo next season for the BYU Cougars.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Williams entered the transfer portal and ended up at Coastal Carolina, where he averaged 14.7 points and 3.2 assists last season. He shot 44.7% from 3-point range and 74.5% from the free-throw line. Williams finished ninth in the Sun Belt in scoring. 

“My year at Coastal was incredible. I was really grateful for the opportunity that the coaching staff gave me here. I chose Coastal Carolina when I was in the transfer portal last year because of previous relationships with the coaching staff. They had been recruiting me since I was in high school and in junior college,” Williams said. “I had relationships with the players. I knew some of the guys here. I became a better person and a better player.

“I was able to showcase my talents. We won a lot of games. I felt like I was able to do what I did because the coaching staff gave me the opportunity and the platform to be me. They got me better. They didn’t try to change me into a player that I wasn’t. They threw out the ball for me and let me go.”

‘We have goals that align’

After the season, Williams decided to enter the transfer portal once again and explore his options.

It was a hectic process, Williams said, and even though it wasn’t his first time in the transfer portal, it was somewhat overwhelming at times.

“About five to 10 minutes after I entered the portal, my phone started to blow up. I got text messages, schools hitting me up on Twitter,” he said. “You do your best to clear all the fog and all the smoke and fake stuff and focus on the real schools and the real schools you could see yourself going to.

“It was nice being wanted by a lot of big-time programs, big-time coaches. That was fun. It gave me a little bit of a reassurance that what I’ve done hasn’t gone unnoticed. It was pretty cool. It was more positive than negative.”

Williams received attention from numerous schools and ultimately narrowed his choices to San Diego State, UConn, Cal, Butler, Wichita State, Xavier, George Mason and BYU. 

How much did he know about BYU in the early stages?

“Last year when I was transferring from Kansas State, BYU reached out to me — (former BYU assistant) coach (Chris) Burgess. So I knew a little bit about BYU. I knew they had good players. I knew about Gideon George because we were in the same junior college class,” he said. “I knew about Alex Barcello and Te’Jon Lucas. I played against Te’Jon when I was at Kansas State. I knew a little bit of history, the Jimmer Fredette era. I knew they had a team that went to the tournament during the COVID year. I knew a little bit about coach Pope and his history.”

In the end Williams picked BYU. 

“It was a combination of the opportunity, the stage and the relationship built over time, the coaching staff,” he said. “They were really authentic to me during the recruiting process … They had a good plan for me and we have goals that align. That’s why I ended up choosing BYU.”

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Kansas State guard Rudi Williams drives to the basket in front of Iowa State forward Javan Johnson, Tuesday, Dec. 15, 2020, in Ames, Iowa. Williams will be playing his final year of college basketball for BYU coach Mark Pope in Provo.

Charlie Neibergall, Associated Press

Of course, the Cougars have lost their leading scorer, and one of the top shooters in the nation in Barcello. Williams is hoping to provide some of the things BYU will be missing without Barcello. 

“I feel like I can kind of fill the void that he’ll be leaving behind. I watched a ton of BYU film and there’s a lot of similarities in our games. He was probably one of the better shooters in the country,” he said. “I saw a lot of stuff that he was doing and I told myself I could do the same thing.

“I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to be a leader from Day One. I’m a likable guy and I’m easy to play with. I feel like there are some things there that he did this year that I’ll be able to do next season.”

Specifically, Williams brings the program a lot of skills. 

“I’m able to create a lot of stuff off the bounce. I put pressure on defenses. I’m able to create my own shot for myself,” he said. “I’m also able to create shots for my teammates, get my bigs dunks and layups because I’m always in attacking mode. Defensively, I play really, really hard. I’m going to give it my all. I feel like I’m going to bring leadership to BYU basketball because I’ve been in college a while. I’m going to bring a toughness as well.”

Senior leadership is something else that matters to Williams and he’s working to forge relationships with his future teammates. 

“I’ve been talking to a few of the guys. I’m building bonds before I get there. Relationships are a big deal when it comes to basketball,” he said. “The more you like a guy, the easier it is to play with them. I’ve done a decent job so far of connecting with the guys.”

Family ties

Williams is one of seven children, and he’s the third-oldest. Four of the seven siblings play basketball, and the youngest, who’s 14, will be the fifth.

“We come from a pretty athletic background. Football, soccer, rugby, basketball. Everyone’s pretty competitive at our house,” he said. “Without my family, I’m probably not the person I am today. They’ve all taught me what it takes to be successful. Being a hard worker and dedicated and making sacrifices to get what you want. I own my family a lot.”

His mother is obsessed with basketball. 

“I called my mom the other day, on Saturday,” Williams said. “She might as well be an ESPN analyst the way she’s talking about the NBA playoffs. We’re pretty basketball heavy at our house.”

Williams’ oldest brother went on the recruiting visit to Provo with him. It was their first trip to Utah.

“He was blown away by the state of Utah and Provo,” Williams said. “He was talking about buying a condo in town and moving in during the season and coming to the games. My family will definitely be taking trips to Provo.”

What were Williams’ impressions of Utah?

“I thought it was going to be super cold and snowing. You think of mountains and the Utah Jazz. When we came out of the airport, it was beautiful. I was blown away by the mountains,” he said. “The entire trip I was sticking my phone out the window trying to get video of the mountains. It was very clean. My brother and I made jokes. It looks like a movie scene. It was really nice.”

Meeting Cosmo

Over the years, Williams has been impressed with BYU’s mascot, Cosmo, and his antics, dances and stunts on social media.

When he was on his recruiting visit to campus, the coaching staff asked Williams if there was anything that he needed. At first, he was hesitant to ask for Cosmo to be there when he did his photo shoot. But he wanted to meet Cosmo. The coaches said that could be arranged.

When Williams arrived for his photo shoot, Cosmo was already there, waiting for him. 

“I was really grateful for that. It was pretty cool,” Williams said. “There were a couple of pictures where he was doing flips behind me. It was cool to finally see that in person.”

Williams is also looking forward to playing in the Marriott Center. 

“They say it gets crazy. They say about 15,000 fans go to the games. That will be a first for me because I’ve never gotten to play in front of that many people. But it will be good to have them on my side,” he said. “I also heard the ROC tally how many free throws the opposing team misses throughout the year. Fans on Twitter say I’m going to love playing there. They say it gets really loud. It should be pretty exciting when I make a 3 to hear the crowd make some noise for that. I’m excited for that.”

For his final season of college basketball, Williams is eager to win a championship, play in the NCAA Tournament — and help the program prepare for its big leap into the Big 12. 

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Kansas State’s Rudi Williams dribbles during game against Texas Tech, Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021, in Lubbock, Texas. Williams transferred to BYU in the offseason and is eager to make a mark in Provo.

Brad Tollefson, Associated Press