By KEVIN HARRIS
Entering this season, Keenan Williams knew he was going to get a chance to play lots of minutes for the Jeffersonville High School boys’ basketball team.
Williams has taken full advantage of that opportunity.
The junior guard is the Red Devils’ second-leading scorer at 13.7 points per game along with averaging around 2.5 assists per contest. Williams also is one of Jeff’s best defenders as he has been one of the leaders of the Red Devils’ full-court press.
Williams has been one of Jeff’s most valuable players during its postseason march to Saturday’s Class 4A Seymour Semi-state at Scott Gym.
In the four state tournament games he has played, Williams has averaged 22.3 points a contest while shooting 32-of-41 from the field (78 percent) and 20-of-25 from the free-throw line (80 percent). He matched his career-high of 28 points in the Red Devils’ 87-60 victory over Floyd Central in the first round of the Class 4A Seymour Sectional on Feb. 26.
“Keenan has done a great job,” Jeff coach Chad Gilbert said. “He’s improved every night out. He’s went from just playing basketball to being a basketball player. He’s smart, he has a very quick first step and he has a knack for scoring the basketball. He’s had a great year and we look for him to have an even better year next year.”
Gilbert said Williams worked on his game a lot in the offseason in preparing for the huge increase in playing time at the varsity level.
“He‘s gotten a whole lot stronger since last year,” Gilbert said. “He was in our weight-training class and I think he improved on his explosiveness and his strength. He’s a gym rat. He likes to be in the gym and always be around basketball.”
But Williams has battled some adversity this season and it happened during the Seymour Sectional final against New Albany. After fouling out of the contest, Williams left the bench in the final minutes of the game after teammate Darryl Baker got fouled while trying to make a breakaway layup. A melee ensued between both teams, prompting Williams to leave the bench.
Williams got ejected from the game and had to sit out last Saturday’s Seymour Regional semifinal against Evansville Harrison.
But after Jeff defeated the Class 4A No. 4 Warriors 73-62, Williams returned to the Red Devils’ lineup for the regional final versus Franklin Central and had another stellar postseason performance. Williams scored a game-high 24 points to lead Jeff past the Flashes, 85-69.
On Tuesday evening, the News and Tribune sports department talked to Williams about Jeff’s 2013 state championship run, what he learned from the incident in the sectional final and other items.
• QUESTION: You have been on fire since the postseason started. Are you just in a zone right now?
• WILLIAMS: “I’m just in a zone. I’ve just been getting a lot of shots up in the gym [during practice]. I’ve just been feeling good lately. Also, my teammates have been helping me a lot.”
• Q: Entering this season when you knew you were going to get more playing time on the varsity squad, what were some of the things you worked on in the offseason to get ready for the extra varsity playing time?
• WILLIAMS: “First of all, my mid-range jump shot was suspect and I just had to work on that a whole lot more. If I couldn’t shoot mid-range jump shots, I knew I wasn’t going to play that much. Defense was probably the main thing I worked on. In open gym, I played against a lot of ex-[Jeff] players like Trice [Whaley].”
• Q: What do you like the most about playing in Coach Gilbert’s system?
• WILLIAMS: “There are a lot of cuts, a lot of screens and a lot of plays. The good thing about having a lot of plays is it keeps teams off-balance, and they can’t keep up with 60-70 plays.”
• Q: Do you also like the up-tempo style of Coach Gilbert’s system?
• WILLIAMS: “Yes. It’s a run-and-gun style where you get the ball up the court real fast.”
• Q: How tough was it to watch last Saturday’s regional semifinal from the bench?
• WILLIAMS: “It was very tough. All I was thinking in my mind was, ‘Please win.’ I’ll never do that again. It will never happen again because I don’t want to be over there sitting by myself, being the second-leading scorer at that time and not being able to play and help my team out.”
• Q: I did see you during the regional semifinal cheering for your teammates. In fact, your teammate, Myles Harvey, said you were the team’s No. 1 cheerleader in that contest. How fired up did you get as the game went on?
• WILLIAMS: “I was very fired up. That’s probably the most fired up and happiest I’ve been in my life. They were doing this for me, so I could play the next game. [Jeff’s] Drew Ellis had a huge [game] with a career-high 29 points. He was knocking down shot after shot after shot. He played great basketball and he stepped up big. Also, Myles, [teammate] Tyrise Major and everybody stepped up.”
• Q: What do you think you learned the most from that whole experience - from leaving the bench in the sectional final to sitting out the regional semifinal?
• WILLIAMS: “Just never do it again. Most of all, I need to keep my cool. I wasn’t going out there trying to fight or anything like that. I was concerned about Darryl’s fall. I didn’t know if he was hurt. I didn’t what was going on.”
• Q: What has the coaching staff told you about your semi-state opponent, Indianapolis Cathedral?
• WILLIAMS: “They said they are a little bit bigger than us and are really athletic, too. I have heard about them all over the place and how athletic they are. Four of their starters are going to [NCAA Division I schools]. But we’ve got talent, too. We’re a good team, too. It ought to be a good game.”
• Q: In your mind, what are the keys for your team to pull out a win on Saturday?
• WILLIAMS: “Defense and rebounding are the main things. We’re going to score, we’re going to make runs and they’re going to make runs. But it all comes down to defense and rebounding.”
• Q: Scott Gym in Seymour has turned into a home away from home for your team. How much do you like playing there?
• WILLIAMS: “It’s a pretty good place. It’s kind of like playing at home to tell you truth. We’re used to the rims and used to the floor. When you face teams that come in there that are not used to the rims and the floor, it gives us a little bit of an advantage.”
• Q: What would it mean to you to play in the Class 4A state championship game on March 23 at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis?
• WILLIAMS: “It would mean a lot. That’s what we’ve been striving to do. It would be great - it would be amazing. If we don’t win [the state title], it would be sad and all that stuff. But it would be amazing to be in the state championship game.”