Louisville basketball: What Samuell Williamson could mean for Cards in 2020-21

LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - OCTOBER 29: Samuell Williamson #10 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates against the Bellarmine Knights during an exhibition game at KFC YUM! Center on October 29, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
LOUISVILLE, KENTUCKY - OCTOBER 29: Samuell Williamson #10 of the Louisville Cardinals celebrates against the Bellarmine Knights during an exhibition game at KFC YUM! Center on October 29, 2019 in Louisville, Kentucky. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images) /

Louisville basketball rising sophomore Samuell Williamson is could be in for a massive season in 2020-21. Here’s why.

When Louisville basketball opened its 2019-20 season on the road at Miami, aside from an impressive wire-to-wire domination of the Hurricanes, one of the biggest takeaways across the board was the impressive play of true freshman Samuell Williamson in his first-ever college game. In the season opener, Williamson dropped 15 points and collected 5 boards, and eight days later, he scored 15, brought down 5 rebounds, and dished out four assists in a win over Indiana State.

At that point, most Louisville fans saw Williamson as the next big thing for the Cards. Coming off the bench, the 6’7″ wing from Rockwall, Texas played at least 23 minutes in each of Louisville’s first four games. His presence was felt every time he came in for veterans Jordan Nwora and Dwayne Sutton, and Louisville’s offense flourished with Williamson’s confident cutting and aggressive drives to the basket.

Williamson played up to his McDonald’s All-American billing for the first four games. However, after that, his contributions lessened more and more after each game passed. He scored in double figures in two of Louisville’s first three games, but only scored more than 10 points one time the rest of the season. His minutes decreased, his production dipped, and he saw the veterans grab more and more clock.

A changing of the guard

2020-21 could be different for Williamson, however. After some serious roster turnover at the end of the season, perhaps it’s the perfect time for Williamson to become the next big thing in Louisville.

"“I think Sam is poised to have a really big jump from freshman to sophomore year,” Mack said in a teleconference this week, addressing the future of his program.“In many ways, one of the best things Sam does is score. He has a unique ability to get into the lane and rise up, get to his spot, and use that 6’7″ frame of his. He has a great touch in the lane, you know, and I think some of the things he did well for us when he was playing well, was he scored the ball.Now, when you come into a program that has a player like Jordan Nwora, who was one of the elite scorers in college basketball, you have a guy like Ryan McMahon, maybe that’s not necessarily what we need from Sam all the time. And, when we do get that, we have to have the defensive effort- The defensive understanding, because when you have a guy like Dwayne Sutton, he has that for five years.Sam, at times, he had really good moments. He also had some very freshman moments that we had to pull him off the floor, whether it was turnovers (or other mistakes). When you’re a freshman and a guy who’s not playing consistently 25-30 minutes a night, you get a little tight thinking you have to prove yourself and do something that maybe puts you into a position where you’re making more mistakes than you’re making positive plays.Sam’s potential as a scorer for us is through the roof. I think he’s shown that he can be a very good rebounder for us, and he’s going to have to up his defense and he knows it- He’s more than capable. I think he grew as a freshman, and we are looking forward to having Sam as a sophomore thinking he’s going to do some big things for our team.”"

There’s a ton to unpack just from the two minutes of comments that Mack made on Williamson’s potential, but perhaps the biggest takeaway is that he feels Williamson was one of the players most affected by the wealth of seniority and depth on last year’s team.

Williamson played perhaps the most within himself in those first few games of the season. However, things began to change quickly, and it forced Williamson’s hand a bit and perhaps made him a bit uptight and afraid to make mistakes.

He wasn’t needed for his scoring because All-American Jordan Nwora and fifth-year senior Ryan McMahon were offensive specialists. Williamson couldn’t contribute at the three on defense as well by default because fifth-year senior Dwayne Sutton had a ton of experience on him.

Williamson was in a pickle as far as earning playing time from the jump, and as a top 25 player in the country, a McDonald’s All-American, and a guy with aspirations to make a jump to the NBA, it’s tough to compartmentalize being the guy your entire life to a role player.

Flashes of greatness

Still, Mack mentioned that Williamson showed flashes of greatness in 2019-20.

Williamson obviously had a hot start to the season. He dropped 14 points later in the season in a home win against Clemson and earned his first career start when the Cards visited the Tigers a few weeks later.

Overall, Williamson proved during his freshman season that he is a great scorer. Though his 4.4 points per game aren’t exactly indicative of a prolific scoring machine, it was clear when he was on the court that he is comfortable in that role.

What will benefit Williamson in 2020-21 is that he has the players around him not to make him better. Last season, it was a bit of an uphill battle trying to squeeze in playing time when he was less experienced than the two wings in front of him, and playing alongside them, Williamson was expected to yield to the more experienced Nwora and Sutton and be more of a second option.

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Still, we saw in spurts that Williamson can be extremely effective alongside the right teammates. When in the game with freshman backcourt mate David Johnson, Williamson played more within himself on the offensive end, as demonstrated in a solid three-game stretch at Duke, then at home against Georgia Tech and Clemson.

Williamson will have the chance to operate a ton with Johnson in the game next season, and graduate transfer Carlik Jones should play more of a factor in creating space for Williamson as a scorer who is also a prolific passing threat.

Louisville’s starting lineup will likely feature Johnson, Jones, and Malik Williams, who continues to improve as a high-low guy and an excellent passer out of the post.

This all bodes well for Williamson. He won’t be battling for minutes as much at the three spot, and can instead focus on his strengths. He can get to the basket at will, thrives in the mid-range, and is an ever-improving shooter from deep.

The Cardinals need a player in Nwora’s absence to score at all three levels, and Williamson seems like the perfect answer.

There’s a long way to go before the start of this season for Louisville basketball, but it feels like Chris Mack already knows who his guy is next year. From everything we’ve seen so far, it feels like Samuell Williamson is up to the task.

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