Kenrich Williams felt like he was on top of the college basketball world as he and his teammates hoisted the NIT championship trophy at Madison Square Garden.
The Horned Frogs romped to an 86-54 win over Georgia Tech in last week’s championship game, and Williams had a lot to do with it. After his 25-point, 12-rebound performance, the talented guard was named the NIT’s most outstanding player.
“It was a great experience because that was my first time in New York and playing at Madison Square Garden,” Williams said. “It was great for the seniors because of the road they went to get here. Hopefully by winning this tournament we’ll be ready for the NCAA tournament next year.”
TCU’s rise from a Big 12 bottom feeder to NIT champion mirrors Williams’ own rise.
Coming out of University High School in 2013, Williams didn’t receive a single Division I scholarship offer. Even after a solid freshman year at New Mexico Junior College, he was largely overlooked and felt fortunate to get an offer from TCU. Then he missed the entire 2015-16 season with a knee injury.
Those days of obscurity seem like a long time ago now to Williams.
As a fourth-year junior, the 6-7 guard averaged 11.4 points and 9.7 rebounds while shooting 49.5 percent from the field. His 19 double-doubles in 37 games led the Big 12 and ranked 11th nationally. He ranked second in the Big 12 behind Baylor’s Johnathan Motley in rebounding and 25th nationally.
First-year TCU coach Jamie Dixon sees nothing but big things ahead for Williams as a senior. He’ll almost certainly be a preseason all-Big 12 selection as the Horned Frogs will try to build on their breakout 24-15 season.
“I can’t wait to see him next year and what we do with him this summer because his play has taken off,” said Dixon after TCU won the NIT championship. “You’re seeing the numbers that he’s putting up. His play down the stretch has been unbelievable. His offensive numbers have gotten better as we’ve gotten the understanding of where he needs to be and what positions to put him in.”
High school productivity
Williams was a highly productive player for University High School during his two full years on the varsity. As a senior, he averaged 14.6 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 steals as he earned District 8-4A defensive player of the year for a Trojans squad that finished 28-5.
“He’s a great kid and was a joy to coach,” said University coach Rodney Smith. “He kind of played the 4 for us. We had other shooters so he wouldn’t shoot a lot. But winning was the most important thing to that kid and he did whatever it took.”
Williams felt like he grew a great deal during his years under Smith, who recently switched from University’s basketball coach to football coach.
“Coach Smith was one of the best coaches I’ve ever had,” Williams said. “He showed kids the right thing to do on and off the court. He was a great role model. I just tried to bring energy to the team. I was taller than the most of the kids out there, so I played wherever they wanted me.”
Despite Williams’ impressive numbers and University’s success, Williams got little attention from college scouts. He believes the biggest reason he was overlooked was because he only played one year of AAU basketball and didn’t get much exposure during the summer recruiting periods.
“It was kind of disappointing but at the time I wasn’t playing much on the AAU circuit,” Williams said. “One year of AAU basketball wasn’t enough.”
Williams produced a solid freshman season for New Mexico Junior College as he averaged 10.1 points and 6.9 rebounds for a team that ranked as high as No. 7 in the NJCAA poll.
But once again he didn’t get a lot of attention. He was happy to get a scholarship offer from TCU even though the basketball team went 0-18 in the Big 12 in the season before Williams joined the team.
“I think I got everything I could out of that one year at New Mexico Junior College,” Williams said. “It helped me become a man and a decent basketball player. There’s really nothing out there, so you just focus on one thing and that’s to go to a bigger and better school and get a Division I scholarship.”
Williams proved to be a welcome addition to Trent Johnson’s squad as he averaged 8.6 points and 6.7 rebounds in 2014-15. With the Horned Frogs showing significant improvement by going 18-15 overall and 4-14 in the Big 12, Williams was anxious to see how far they would rise the next year.
But Williams injured his knee and had to sit out last season. His absence was a major blow for the Horned Frogs as they finished 12-21 overall and 2-16 in the Big 12, leading to Johnson’s firing.
“Man, it was one of the toughest years of my basketball career having to sit out and watch from the sidelines and not being able to contribute,” Williams said. “I did a lot of rehab, got a lot of treatment, and worked hard during the offseason. I had to get my body back to where it was before the injury.”
The excitement level around the team was high following the hiring of Dixon, a former TCU guard who had built a highly successful program at Pittsburgh. The TCU players felt a shift in the program’s fortunes would soon follow.
“The great thing about Coach Dixon is he’s a teacher,” Williams said. “If you have a question or mess up on something he’ll show you the right way of doing things. The biggest reason why he’s successful is because everybody buys into what he says.”
After missing the first two games this season with a leg injury, Williams quickly got into a groove as the Horned Frogs began to turn heads in nonconference play.
During the Big 12 regular season and the postseason tournament, Williams scored in double figures 15 times and recorded double-figure rebounds 13 times.
After going 6-12 in the Big 12 regular season, the Horned Frogs made a tremendous run to the semifinals of the conference tournament in Kansas City. Williams was instrumental in the Jayhawks’ 85-82 upset of No. 1 Kansas in the quarterfinals as he finished with 18 points and eight rebounds.
With his 6-7 frame and ability to crash the boards, Williams was a tough matchup for opposing guards. He kept defenses honest by shooting 36.3 percent from 3-point range and has been an outstanding defensive player since he stepped on campus.
“I knew my role was to do all the little things like rebounding and playing defense and doing what my team needs me to be,” Williams said. “If I create energy, I can bring energy to the next guy.”
With TCU guard Jaylen Fisher going out with a broken wrist during the opening NIT win over Fresno State, Williams knew he had to pick it up even more. During the Horned Frogs’ five-game NIT run, he recorded a double-double in every game.
Williams helped the Horned Frogs to a 68-53 win over UCF the semifinals with 14 points and 14 rebounds. Then came TCU’s crowning moment in the NIT championship blowout of Georgia Tech at the world’s most famous arena.
“I was thinking about guys who had played at Madison Square Garden like Michael Jordan,” Williams said. “It was great for me because last year I was on the sideline with a knee injury. It was just a blessing for me to go out and play. It was a crazy, unbelievable experience.”
Smith said Williams’ success at TCU this season has raised awareness of University basketball.
“He kind of raised some eyebrows,” Smith said. “We had more college coaches come by and call because of what he did. That was special, not only for him but also for University and South Waco.”