SAN JOSE – Johnathan Williams is so soft-spoken even he acknowledges he’s “one of the most quiet guys around.”
He does so in a calm, measured tone that coaches and teammates appreciate.
“Super quiet,” junior guard Nigel Williams-Goss said, “but he’s definitely a great addition personality wise. He knows how to laugh, joke and have fun but he doesn’t have to be the center of attention. Really easy to get along with.
“Everyone likes to have J3 in the room.”
Not to mention on the court. Williams’ impact at both ends of the floor has multiplied as the season progressed. He had just three double-figures scoring games in the first 11. He closed the regular season with double-digit games in 14 of the final 18.
His rebounding numbers have soared. The left-hander’s post-up moves and finishes – with either hand – have blossomed, prompting the staff to call additional plays for the junior forward.
The 6-foot-9, 228-pounder’s rare combination of size, foot speed, agility and strength make him invaluable defensively. Wiliams shut down South Dakota State’s Mike Daum, the nation’s second-leading scorer, in GU’s NCAA tournament opener.
Williams’ ability to defend guards on switches was a key reason why Saint Mary’s efficient offense sputtered against the Zags in three meetings.
“I don’t even know if he’s an X-factor anymore,” said coach Mark Few, whose Zags take on West Virginia on Thursday in the Sweet 16. “He’s just a really good player. He gives us an entity, especially as of late. He’s been a consistently aggressive, athletic guy that’s been attacking the rim, facing up.
“You put a smaller guy on him, he can bounce down to his post moves and he’s been relentless on the glass. That’s what he was his whole redshirt year. We couldn’t block him out.”
Williams was averaging just under five rebounds per game midway through the season. He’s bumped that to a team-leading 6.6, including 19 boards versus San Diego and 14 against the Jackrabbits.
“The early part of the season I was just trying to figure out what the coaches really wanted from me,” Williams said “I was able to work on my game every single day and listen to what the coaches told me to do. That’s how I play at my highest capability.”
The next TV camera or reporter’s notebook he seeks out will be his first, but his influence on games has brought bigger crowds around his locker room cubicle.
During media availability last week in Salt Lake City, Williams took videos inside the locker room as reporters visited with his teammates.
“If nobody asks me questions I’m just going to sit back and relax,” Williams said. “I’m just a real chill guy.”
Ask Williams about his hobbies and the words flow freely. He’s a movie nut, taking in Kong: Skull Island and Logan on the day before Selection Sunday.
Williams speaks with authority on Marvel and DC Comics, rattling off the differences between the movie franchises.
“I’m a big-time Marvel guy,” Williams said. “DC is kind of falling behind, they have to catch up. That’s why they’re doing all the individual super-hero movies like Wonder Woman.”
Williams turns chatty when the topic turns to food. The Memphis native enjoys southern cuisine, but he’s willing to mix it up.
“We go get sushi sometimes,” center Przemek Karnowski laughed. “We probably need three or four rolls (to fill us up), I’m not going to lie.”
Williams transferred after two seasons at Missouri. The Tigers were 32-35 in that span and recently fired coach Kim Anderson. At Gonzaga, Williams has found camaraderie, victories and a path to the NCAA tournament.
“As a young child you always watched the NCAA tournament,” he said. “To actually be able to play in it, I can’t take this for granted. I’m going to cherish every moment on the court.”