Johnathan Williams was never supposed to be the leader on the squad. He arrived from Missouri under the large shadow of Przemek Karnowski, and joined up with Zach Collins and to lead the Gonzaga Bulldogs to their first Final Four and national championship appearance.
But then Karnowski graduated and Collins and darted for the NBA. Suddenly, the frontcourt, as promising as it was, wasn’t exactly laden with experience. All the focus was on the soft spoken Gonzaga center, and Williams responded like most good leaders do—with his actions.
The double-overtime loss to Florida in the PK80 Invitational didn’t have the desired outcome, but it was one of the best regular season games the Zags have played in. Williams was a large part of that. He was one point shy of being the 18th 40 point game by a Gonzaga player. While Florida bombed three pointer after three pointer, Williams poured in 39 points and 12 rebounds.
Against UNC Greensboro this year, when the Zags were struggling to put away an upstart No. 13 seed, Williams was Mr. Dependable, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 crucial defensive rebounds.
Williams versatility as a big man was a new facet to the Gonzaga offense. Last season, both Karnowski and Collins operated as more traditional centers, allowing Williams to float around and space the floor. This season, with Williams spending most of his time at center, he still did the same thing. Often times, posting up well outside of the post, and bullying his way down low for a left-handed hook.
Williams was an absolute workhorse. Since 1992-93, there have been 11 Zags that grabbed at least 550 rebounds. Williams did that in just two seasons. Sam Dower, who is above Williams with 576 total rebounds, needed four seasons.
He was a key member of the most successful stretch of play Gonzaga has seen in school history. Williams emphasized a new way for Gonzaga to compete: Through the transfer model. Where as Gonzaga has shown success with grad transfers looking for one last party, Williams demonstrated that Gonzaga is a suitable destination for any player looking to fit into a winning program.
He sacrificed being the No. 1 option at Missouri to add an important athletic aspect to a championship level today. He flirted with the NBA, but decided to come back for one more go around. He was exemplary on the court and in the classroom, winning a Senior CLASS Award this season.
Now, JW3 will try out for the NBA, and it will be an uphill battle. He is taking part in the Portsmouth Invitational, the primo viewing spot for NBA scouts to watch college seniors. Outside of a pretty bad free throw shot (which hey, that has never been much of an issue in the NBA), Williams has the tools to be a solid role player on a multitude of NBA teams, especially if he can improve upon his jump shot.
However, even without the consistent shooting range, Williams is crafty down low. If not the NBA, he will have a long and prosperous career playing in Europe. He was only here for two years, but Williams has made a lasting impact, and the Zag community is forever grateful.