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Syracuse Crystal (Basket)Ball: Benny Williams

nunesmagician.com

The last article about Symir Torrence should’ve answered the necessary questions about one of SU’s most experienced players. There is a stark difference with this one though. As much as Torrence, and even the expectations on Joe Girard and Jesse Edwards, are extremely high, none compare to Syracuse’s 2021 golden boy Benny Williams.

The forward skyrocketed up the rankings to close out his high school tenure, ranking in the top 30 of the class of ‘21 among most basketball recruiting outlets. Williams entered SU’s program as the highest ranked recruit in a long while. This naturally created gaudy expectations for the former five-star. Unfortunately for Syracuse, he did not deliver or at least looked quite uncomfortable during the brief minutes he received throughout the year. It is worth noting that last year’s lone freshman played under eight minutes per game so opportunities were sparse in the first place. 

But that should change this season with his sophomore status.

EXPECTATION

Williams was known as a great slasher to the rim and a quick decision maker fresh out of high school. He also started close to every game and was a mainstay on whichever team rostered the high school stud. With all this success comes preconceived notions of how one should play at the next level, which is totally understandable. Syracuse fans thought the next coming of Malachi Richardson was walking through the door. A player who both met and exceeded expectations during his rookie year in 2015, landing on the All-ACC Freshman Team. But instead, Jim Boeheim rarely trusted his new shiny five star and rather deferred to more experienced and game-ready players.

That being said, Boeheim had every right to implement a short leash on Williams. If his rock bottom statistics were not enough proof, then the eye test definitely was. The former IMG Academy star looked timid and confused at times. The first step that many lauded over as the reason for his five star ranking was never a productive one at the college level. For example, Willams would catch the ball in the triple threat and be unsure what to do next, which was never the case against top competition at the high school level. To put it blunt, Williams was rattled playing in a man’s ACC, where teams are either composed of athletes competing well above their years or star-studded, NBA-built youngsters. 

As much as fans can knock his game, another unfortunate part of his first season was his youth and lack of such around him. It’s hard enough for a high schooler to adapt to college ball, but even tougher when no other freshmen are around you to experience the ups and downs. That led to a rather forgettable stat line that one can tab as a developmental, redshirt-esque year, and has the potential to play a huge role in how Williams competes this year.

The expectation is that Boeheim will play the now-second year forward more with so many graduates from a season ago. Will that be as a starter or bench piece? Only time will tell. But at least Williams has had time to improve this summer and do so with other underclassmen learning beside him.

Average stats: 10.5 points (42% FG), 4.5 rebounds, 1.5 assists in 22 minutes per game

REALITY

Let’s be honest: Benny’s jump shot took a step back last year from the many mixtapes that highlighted him as a top player in the class of ‘21. It looked flat and rushed.

The positive is his work ethic, evident by the times he’d stay after games to practice his shot. That coupled with Williams’ clear desire to get better and learn, apparent by the five star’s choice to stay in the Syracuse system and forgo transfer rumors. These attributes are integral in the improvement of the sophomore forward and arguably more important than any statistical average accumulated in a given season. This isn’t a rally cry for Williams to be a leader, but it is a plea for a more involved, forward-thinking game plan. 

Unfortunately, he has to prove himself early in non-conference play or the fear of Benny not seeing playing time and transferring should creep back into everyone’s mind. But hope should lie on that not happening. With a very brief surge toward the end of last season, prior to an injury, fans should expect more consistent play from Williams on both sides of the ball, all contingent on how much Boeheim lets him play. 

The reality is the sophomore will most likely play less minutes as the season progresses due to heightened competition. Plus, the feeling is pretty confident around the success of at least half of this upcoming freshman class (six in total). That would hurt Williams’ playing time unless he holds his own and proves to Boeheim that he is not expendable.

Average stats: 7.5 points (35% FG), 2.5 rebounds, 0.5 assists in 16 minutes per game 

CEILING

Even with the “reality” section failing to exude the confidence expressed in the “expectation” category, Williams could be a possible starter and a force on the offensive side for years to come. He also has the potential to be a defensive stalwart at the bottom of the zone if his footwork has improved over the summer.

Any ceiling prediction starts and ends with Williams as a leader though. If he develops his voice as Buddy Boeheim did from year one to year two, belief in the up and coming forward can only add to the potential seen by the coaching staff that recruited him.

It would also help if the Maryland native became a better decision maker. It would indubitably enhance his shot taking ability and rim running prowess.

Average stats: 16.5 points (44% FG), 6.5 rebounds, 3.5 assists in 35 minutes per game

FLOOR

It’s one of those odd instances that a rising sophomore’s “floor” has already been well-documented. If Williams performs anything like he did his freshman season then it would only replicate what his floor is.

Average stats (= freshman year stats): 1.9 points (34% FG), 1.4 rebounds, 0.2 assists in 8 minutes per game

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The Fizz is owned, edited and operated by Damon Amendolara. D.A. is an ’01 Syracuse graduate from the Newhouse School with a degree in Broadcast Journalism.

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