Yes, Benny Williams did not have a great freshman season at Syracuse. Yes, he did not play well in SU’s season-opening 90-72 win over Lehigh. But, that doesn’t mean it’s time to give up on the former four-star recruit that people once claimed was the turning point in the return of Syracuse recruiting. It’s way too early to give up.
Williams played in 29 games as a freshman, did not start a single one, and was mostly blocked from playing time by transfers Cole Swider and Jimmy Boeheim, both players with at least three prior years of college basketball experience. Williams averaged 11.5 minutes per game, shooting nearly 34% from the field, went just 1/11 from three-point range, and 13/21 (almost 62%) from the foul line.
The then-freshman averaged just 1.9 points per game, 1.4 rebounds per contest, and had 18 turnovers to only six assists. No, Williams is not a facilitator who should be gathering up assists on a nightly basis, but a three to one turnover to-assist ratio is unacceptable. He had some nice moments last year, like a giant weakside recovery for a huge block against Drexel in the second game of the season.
But, his best moments usually came against bad teams, or against good teams in garbage time. When Syracuse got manhandled by Duke in the final game between Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski in the Dome, Williams played 30 minutes and had 14 points and six rebounds when the game was already out of reach. That’s the extent of his freshman contributions. Yes, not encouraging, but opportunities ahead with the departures of Swider and Boeheim.
So, in the Orange’s exhibition’s against Indiana (PA) and Southern New Hampshire, Williams did what Boeheim said in the preseason that he had to do, rebound the basketball. The sophomore averaged 10 rebounds per game in the two exhibitions, and had a double-double against Crimson Hawks in a game the Orange trailed at halftime. That’s encouraging, but then comes the season opener.
Williams played 23 minutes, scored two points, corralled only three rebounds, and missed both of his free throw attempts. Not good. Our own Francesco Simone went on an epic rant about Williams after the game, and how he was ready to give his starting lineup spot to someone else. But, we’re not there yet. It was one game. Yes, Jim Boeheim was not happy with that performance postgame, but there are plenty more opportunities to learn.
Boeheim planned Syracuse’s nonconference schedule this way for a reason. Brooklyn is a familiar place to play where Orange fans flock, the Georgetown game is at home, and there are no other big games besides the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. It’s a nonconference schedule meant for learning and gaining experience.
So, those games are not just for the freshman and new players on SU’s roster to get experience, Williams needs it too because of the limited minutes he played last year. The team needs to develop chemistry and gel, and that’s what is going to happen. Don’t give up on Benny Williams yet, at least give him a few more games to prove himself and unlock the potential and talent he has.