Williams assumes role as rebounder for No. 24 Missouri (VIDEO)

Missouri's Shane Rector (left), Tony Criswell (center) and Johnathan Williams III fight each other for a rebound against West Virginia last week at Mizzou Arena.

Missouri's Shane Rector (left), Tony Criswell (center) and Johnathan Williams III fight each other for a rebound against West Virginia last week at Mizzou Arena. Photo by The Associated Press.

COLUMBIA — Just let Jordan Clarkson describe him.

“That dude is an animal. He’s a machine,” the Missouri point guard said.

That person would be Johnathan Williams III, the freshman forward for the 24th-ranked Tigers. The 6-foot-9, 208-pounder leads the Tigers with an average of 8.6 rebounds. Even more impressive is his work on the offensive glass. Williams ranks 19th in the nation by grabbing 17.6 percent of the available rebounds off Missouri missed shots. He pulls down better than 3.5 offensive rebounds per game.

Those numbers were boosted by Williams’ performance during Missouri’s 80-71 victory against UCLA last Saturday, when the freshman pulled down seven offensive boards and 15 total rebounds.

“It was huge for him,” Missouri head coach Frank Haith said of Williams’ effort. “That UCLA team was huge. Those guys are physical. The Wear twins beat us up last year, we got manhandled in California last year. … They were more physical than he was in the first half. He has to utilize his strengths, and that’s quickness and his ability to get off the floor, to be effective.”

So how has he been doing it?

“When I was younger I had some coaches that came to me talking about rebounding outside your area,” Williams said. “That stuck with me through middle school, high school and college.”

It sure has.

“Rebounding is all effort, it’s all effort,” Haith said. “He has some great qualities about himself. He has great instincts, he has a great second jump. What I mean by that is it doesn’t take him long when he hits the floor to get back up real quick. And he’s long. When you have guys that aren’t afraid to rebound out of their area or get it with their arms stretched out, those guys have great instincts and have the ability to be really good rebounders. That’s what J3 (Williams’ nickname) does. He has that great second jump and he can go get it out of his area.”

Rebounding has become William’s calling card early in the season. While he continues to improve on his offensive game — he scored 10 points against UCLA — it’s his ability to control the glass that has kept him on the court.

“I think J3 was a 20-point scorer in high school,” Haith said. He actually averaged 18.9 points and 9.5 rebounds for Southwind High School in Tennessee. “Now his role his first year in college is a little bit different than that. Although he can get better, that doesn’t mean his role won’t get to that level. I think he will eventually be a scorer at that range. On this team right now, for us to win he needs to give us some other things, and I think he’s doing that.”

Williams has recognized that too. He boasts as many double-digit rebound night as he has double-figure scoring games — three.

“My role is going to grow as the season continues, as far on the offensive side. Rebounding is what I do best right now,” he said.

Williams is working feverishly to expand that offensive game, getting at least 200 shots up by himself after practice before speaking with the media Monday. He said that’s become the norm, only topped by his summertime goal of making 500 shots a day.

“Trying to build on my range inside and outside, mid-range. My 3-point range has to improve. I’ve been working on that a lot. Also my post moves as well,” Williams said.

Added Haith: “We do need him (scoring). We want to throw the ball to him, we want to get him in different areas on the court. He has good quickness, he has a good face-up game. He can attack you off the bounce and I think he has a good post-up game. He will be a guy as you’ll see us feature him and get more involved with what we do offensively.”

Yet that part of his game is still a work in progress.

“It’s still going. I’m still trying to work on myself on offense. Right now I’m just getting my points off rebounds and trying to help my team win,” Williams said. “I just have work in the gym more improving my shot, improving my dribble, improving my rip-through off the ball and just play hard.”

Williams’ teammates have taken notice.

“J3 is always working on his game,” Clarkson said. “He might be in the gym more than some of the guys that work here. He’s always working. You’re going to see his offensive game come alive, you’ll see him start knocking hist mid-range jumper down and getting in the post and finishing.”

Williams will get another nice test when Missouri (9-0) hosts Western Michigan (5-3) at 6 p.m. Sunday at Mizzou Arena. The Bronchos trot out a 6-foot-11, 245-pound center named Shayne Whittington. The senior averages 15.8 points and 11 rebounds per game.

But just like every challenge, Williams is ready to take this one head on.

“It’s a blessing to be on the floor and playing the minutes I’ve been playing. I know I still have a lot of things to improve on on the offensive end and defensive end,” he said.

Video

Frank Haith Western Michigan Preview

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