Kenrich Williams, ignored out of high school, the kid who could only land a spot on a juco team in New Mexico, taken by then-TCU head coach Trent Johnson, unselected by the NBA last year, is a player of preference by the one of the top five talents in basketball.
“First day of training camp, he’s just a guy and we thought we’d cut him the next week,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said Monday. “Then we kept him another week. Then it was, ‘Put him in a game.’ Before you know it, he’s starting in the NBA. When AD and I were talking about who we are going to keep, he said, ‘I’d keep that guy right there.’”
In 2014, former TCU student Billy Wessels tweeted, “Can we call Kenrich Williams Kenny Hustle?” Seldom has a nickname been more fitting.
“(That name) has definitely carried and it’s big in New Orleans now,” he said.
Kenrich Williams, previously known for his name, now guards Kevin Durant and LeBron James.
“Now he’s strong,” Williams said.
Williams, previously known for his hair, now covers Russell Westbrook.
“He was my ‘Welcome to the NBA moment,’” Williams said Monday. “He got some buckets on me.”
Williams was the guy who was on Dirk Nowitzki when he scored the jumper to move him past Wilt Chamberlain for sixth all-time in career NBA scoring.
Kenrich Williams is an NBA starter because he is Kenny Hustle.
FROM UNDRAFTED TO NBA STARTER
During a TCU game last year, an NBA scout said the concern about Williams wasn’t his game but rather if he could guard the perimeter. If he had the quickness, or foot speed.
“Part of the problem was his knee (Williams suffered a torn ACL in 2015),” Gentry said. “Everyone gets so paranoid, ‘Oh, it’s a red flag.’ I’ve gone through this before with Sean Elliott, who played for 14 years in the NBA.”
After Williams was undrafted, he played for the Denver Nuggets summer league team. Then he signed with the Pelicans, but was not guaranteed a spot.
After he made the team, he played but didn’t do much. A few minutes a night, with a couple of shots here and there.
On Jan. 30, he scored 21 points with eight rebounds in a close loss to Denver.
Since that night, he has averaged more than 30 minutes a game and been a regular starter. His stats will bore you — he averages 5.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game — but he does everything and can guard three, or four, positions. Gentry said Williams has to improve his ball handling and strength.
But he is starting in the NBA, and he is a guy one of the baddest men in the NBA, Davis, wants as a teammate.
“To hear that boosts my confidence even more, coming from a guy like AD,” Williams said. “The things he can do on the floor, that I witness ... just crazy stats. That he has the confidence in me to stay on the team is huge.”
Williams is a version of Draymond Green; he does everything well to win.
Of course, AD is not long for N.O. He wants out of New Orleans, and is expected to move to a different team in the off-season.
New Orleans is not exactly an NBA destination at the moment; the Pelicans are headed for the lottery, and face the prospect of tearing it down.
At this juncture, Williams’ priority is simply to prove he can play. When an AD wants you as his teammate, that affects general managers and coaches.
WILLIAMS’ TCU LEGACY
Not long after Jamie Dixon was hired as TCU’s coach in 2016, he made retiring Kurt Thomas’ number a priority. At some point, Williams’ 34 should be retired, too. These are the best two players in the history of the program.
While TCU is disappointed it missed the NCAA Tournament, it’s in the postseason for a third consecutive year.
In Williams’ junior year, TCU won the NIT for the first time. Last year, TCU made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 20 years. None of that happens without him.
“I just want to be somebody who came in and changed the whole program,” he said. “I think what we were able to do speaks for itself. Starting from the bottom, and transitioning every year. Just getting better. The NIT run. The tournament last year, that’s what I want my legacy to be.”
His legacy also includes some mention of TCU in an NBA locker room. NBA guys talk college ball in a locker room, and specifically trash talk about their respective alma maters.
“We’ll turn on the TCU game, and they give me a hard time sometimes,” he said. “I tell the guys, we have upcoming TCU players that have a chance to be in the NBA. I think Kouat Noi can play. I think Desmond Bane can play. I think Kevin Samuel can play.”
To date, the best of the bunch is Kenrich Williams, who became an NBA starter because he is Kenny Hustle.