Feb. 20, 2008
By Darren Shimp
A headlock might be the last resort to get Eagle senior Kellen Williams to rest a little.
Generally speaking, the role of team captain in sports is given to the player who exemplifies the heart and soul of the team. The captain shows up for practice early, leaves late and puts extra time in on the side. Williams has done all of this - and more. He just hasn't rested.
This season's captain for the Eastern Washington University men's basketball team is a man among boys in the Big Sky Conference, leading the squad in minutes played, points, rebounds and field goal percentage. According to Eagle head coach Kirk Earlywine, Williams leaves it all on the floor in practice as well as he approaches the end of his three-year EWU career.
"I have to almost put him in a headlock and drag him off the floor in practice to get him rest, because he wants to stay out there for every rep," said Earlywine. "I've had to cut down on how much he practices, and he doesn't like that very much. That's a testament to him."
As of Feb. 16, Williams had logged an league-leading average of 35.5 minutes per game -- 236 total minutes more than the second-highest player on the Eagles (Trey Gross with 758), a difference which is nearly six entire games worth of minutes. Williams credits his endurance to his rigorous summer workouts and practices, both in the gym and in the weight room.
"I hope all of our players have looked to him for leadership by how hard he's worked with conditioning and in the weight room," said Earlywine.
The results have been noticeable on the court as the 6-foot-4 Williams has been "Mr. Double-Double" this season. The 2003 graduate of Franklin High School in Seattle has had 10 games of at least 10 points and 10 rebounds and is a bonafide candidate for first team All-Big Sky Conference honors. He is ranked second in the Big Sky in rebounding (8.4 per game), sixth in scoring (13.4), seventh in field goal percentage (.505) and seventh in steals (1.21).
Williams has averaged 15.9 points and 10.4 rebounds on 57.3 percent shooting in Eastern's 11 victories this season. In his 85-game EWU career (68 as a starter), Williams has averaged 9.9 points and 6.0 rebounds per game with a career field goal percentage of .520. His total of 514 rebounds in his career has moved him into sixth on EWU's all-time leaders list.
The Eagles will be able to prop their feet up a little more than usual over the next two weeks as the last two remaining regular season games come in a 17-day span following EWU's 63-53 victory over Idaho State on Feb. 16. It's a nice break from the normal twice-a-week slate. However, it is Williams that may get the most out of the schedule down the stretch in preparation for a hopeful trip to the Big Sky Tournament.
"Kellen's our best conditioned guy - he's earned those minutes," said Earlywine. "I have been worrying about him wearing down as the season went on; now (with the extra days off) we can rest his body and get a big-time performance from him at Northern Colorado."
Earlywine has been trying to cut Williams' minutes to roughly 30-32 per game, but he says, "It's hard to take him off the floor. He doesn't particularly like coming off the floor, which I like as well."
The beginning of this season saw a timid group of players in the Eagle locker room, without a true vocal leader in the bunch. Despite being described by his head coach as an introvert and not the vocal type, Williams thinks he has solidified the role of vocal leader as the season has worn on.
"I guess I was kind of figuring out the team at first," said Williams. "I was real quiet, but after about two weeks of practice I started speaking up more, because no one else did."
The example he has led has brought forth a new, budding leader in the wings, that of sophomore Brandon Moore, who has averaged 13.8 points and 8.6 rebounds over his last five games. These numbers are nearly identical to those of Williams over the course of the whole season.
"Brandon is coming out of his shell a little bit," said Williams. "He is getting more vocal now, too."
The increased intensity from the crew, which has produced victories in the three of Eastern's last four games, has a unique source for its captain.
"My high school coach used to p--- me off to get me to play better and it worked," said Williams. "Now coach Earlywine is doing it too."
Earlywine describes Williams' personality as hard on the outside, but with an understated sense of humor.
"Once you get past that rough exterior, you can needle Kellen a little bit, and he likes it," said Earlywine.
Williams credits Shaquille O'Neal as inspiration, as Shaq usually steps up his game a couple levels when he gets "needled." He follows O'Neal wherever he plays, and should probably not be disturbed for Wednesday's (Feb. 20) nationally-televised premiere of Shaq in a Phoenix Suns uniform.
"I'm excited to watch it. He's motivated now," said Williams.
Just don't be fooled by the hard exterior description, as Williams describes himself as approachable, and easy to get along with.
"I may look mean, but I smile a lot," said Williams.