Rich Williams heads into junior season with experience of two MAAC championships and a golden opportunity to become one of Manhattan's leaders on both ends of the floor. (Photo courtesy of Vincent Simone via Big Apple Buckets)
He hasn't always been the focal point or the star of the box score, but at the end of the day, he is almost always one of the biggest contributors to the product his team displays on the floor.
He is Rich Williams, and if his last-second dunk against Massachusetts last November didn't get your attention, chances are his improvement as he enters his junior year will be more than enough to make the Brooklyn guard a household name as he takes on more of a leadership role for Manhattan.
"He's a guy that I think is going to make great strides," head coach Steve Masiello said of Williams, who was one of the first players off the bench during each of the Jaspers' back-to-back Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship runs and subsequent NCAA Tournament berths. "I just think his process, how hard he works, how much he stays after it, his passion for the game, (and) obviously his natural talent is phenomenal."
Williams, who arrived in Riverdale after decommitting from Hofstra shortly after the Pride fired Mo Cassara after a 7-24 season in 2013, thrived in his role as a reserve, mentioning his desire to provide a spark for his team last season. Always one of the more enthusiastic personalities on a roster of motivated players, he now begins his inevitable transition into the starting lineup on a full-time basis, one of the primary targets as Manhattan begins its quest for a third straight conference crown.
"Guys like me and Ty, (junior guard Tyler Wilson) we just waited our turn," he said. "Now it's an opportunity, and I'm trying to make the most of it."
Described before last season as a player who could receive first team all-league honors, his coach has been unafraid to exhort him through the Jaspers' opening practices, emphasizing both his need to set the tone on both sides of the ball and coach the underclassmen on the floor as they step into the role he once occupied himself.
"He does all of the little things that lead to great things," Masiello reaffirmed after praising Williams' hustle. "All the other things he brings to the table from a personality standpoint: Toughness, mindset, focus, great teammate, loves his guys, cares about them, just what he brings on an everyday basis."
The road Williams embarks upon this season is far from an unfamiliar one in the Manhattan program. The two highest profile examples of how he will be utilized for the Jaspers this season started out in a similar capacity, only to blossom into all-conference talents. Emmy Andujar was Manhattan's sixth man during his first three seasons before becoming a first team all-MAAC selection last year, and Shane Richards was named to the preseason second team on the heels of a breakout junior campaign last season. When asked what makes Williams the next in the ever-growing line of diamonds in the rough to shine, he remained true to the humble roots that have guided him to where he now stands.
"Just preparation," he shot back, displaying a combination of his trademark confidence and mega-watt grin in the process. "I'm going hard every day, making my presence felt, doing all the little things. That's going to lead to all the big things."