While Big Blue Nation enjoys an improving team on an 11-game run, don't let that fool you into thinking they're satisfied with this year. Kentucky fans, ever observant and always thinking about the next batch of Wildcats, are following closely the recruits already signed by Kentucky, as well as those still being pursued.
One of the two early signees, Morakinyo Michael Williams, is a 7-foot true center, originally from England, who had flown under the radar on the recruiting trail before UK swooped in. 'The Great Briton' visited Lexington in September and, apparently impressed with what he saw, committed to the Cats shortly thereafter to become the first official member of the 2007 recruiting class.
A bit of an unknown commodity nationally, Williams is ranked 85th in Bob Gibbons' most recent senior rankings. The profile for "Big Moike" is probably fairly low in part due to his coming off a knee injury suffered his junior year. Thus far this year, he has played admirably despite a tough season fir his outmanned team.
Mr. Williams was nice enough to take time out of his senior season at Bishop Ireton High School in Alexandria, Va., to answer some of Sea of Blue's questions.
Sea of Blue: How have your first few games gone? We've heard you've been grabbing double-digit rebounds, and that your competition if tough in the DC area. Can you give us some more details on your team, your season and what you hope to accomplish this year?
Mike Williams: The first half of our season isn't going well. We are 3-15 right now. We are really struggling, but we are in every game. Our starting point guard has been out the whole season, but we hope to have him back in the next two weeks. We keep losing a lot of close games where having an experienced point guard would have made a difference. I have been rebounding pretty well this year. I'm averaging about 15 points and 13 rebounds. I could be scoring more, but most games I don't get a lot of touches. I really want to improve as a team and personally after every game. I'm hoping to make a good run in the conference tournament this year.
Sea of Blue: Please tell us a bit more about your game. Tubby Smith noted you were a true "back to the basket" center. What are your strengths as a player and what do you feel you still need to work on to excel at the next level?
Williams: Yeah, I play mostly back to the basket. I don't like to face up much. I like just using post moves, like up-and-unders, and hook shots. I post up very strong and get as deep in the paint as possible. I can shoot pretty well from mid-range, but don't get much of a chance to use my range on my team because we run 4-out, 1-in. I rebound well and I run the floor as hard as I can to get putbacks. I need to work on getting rebounds not just in the paint, but following and getting the ball wherever it goes. I need to work on my timing, to help with my shot blocking. I am working on my strength by lifting four times a week. I also am working hard on fine-tuning the things I do well.
Sea of Blue: What is it like living so far from home? What do you miss the most? What has helped your transition to American life? Fish and chips or burgers and fries?
Williams: At first, it was very hard being away from home. I really did not like being here. As time went on and I made some friends it became much better for me. I miss my family and friends quite a bit. It's a weird feeling going back home once a year, because there are always changes and I'm missing out on my friend's and my family's lives. Making friends here really helped me make the transition to the States. Fish and Chips because I don't get it very often.
Sea of Blue: Have you watched Kentucky play yet this season, and if so, what are your feelings on the current team? Have you been in contact with the UK staff since your verbal?
Williams: I have only got to see UK play one time this season. I always read about the games but I don't get television coverage where I live. I like the team. The UK has some amazing talent. I'm looking forward to playing with team and playing against another skilled post player every day in practice to help me improve. I speak to the staff about once a week and a coach came to see me at my tournament in North Carolina. They have been great.
Sea of Blue: Can you talk to us about the state of basketball in England and how you came to play the game? What are the biggest differences between the game in Britain and the one here?
Williams: In England, basketball is not very popular. Football (soccer over here) is a religion over there. My secondary school had a basketball team and I played for them. We didn't practice and just played games against other local schools. I didn't learn much there. I then joined a club team which was when I first started learning how to play basketball. The biggest difference for me between British ball and American ball is the key [paint]. It is based on international rules and shaped differently. Because it is wider near the end line, it makes it more difficult to post up [in international ball]. Also, American basketball is also a lot more serious.
Sea of Blue: One final question: Do you have a message for UK fans eager to see what you can bring to the floor next season?
Williams: I'm looking forward to showing people what I can do and how I can help the `Cats. There is no better place in the world to play basketball than the University of Kentucky. I am very grateful for the opportunity Coach Smith has given me, and I'm going to keep working hard all year round to become a better player. Also, my first name is Morakinyo. Morakinyo Michael Williams.