Kenrich Williams shines as his NBA minutes continue to increase

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New Orleans Pelicans guard Kenrich Williams (34) goes to the basket during the second half of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Denver Nuggets in New Orleans, Wednesday, Jan. 30, 2019. The Nuggets won 105-99. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

When his number was called, Kenrich Williams answered the bell.

An injury-plagued New Orleans Pelicans lineup has allowed the former TCU men’s basketball forward to see quality minutes for the first time in his young career, and he’s made the most of his opportunity.

The Pelicans are currently missing four of their five regular starters, allowing Williams to record a team-high 37 minutes in Wednesday, Jan. 30 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

Williams has averaged 23 minutes in each of his last four games, 10 more than his career-high in minutes before Jan. 24.

TCU fans saw a familiar version of Williams in which he attacked the boards and made his presence felt on the defensive end. Williams grabbed a career-high 16 rebounds in Tuesday’s upset victory over the Rockets in Houston and scored a career-high 21 points on over 50 percent shooting from beyond the arc Wednesday night.

“That’s what we’re used to seeing from him,” New Orleans teammate Jahlil Okafor said following Williams’ 16-rebound performance. “It’s actually in practice – he’s the guy that gets us extra possessions, defensive rebounding as well. He just has the knack for finding the ball and he came up big for us tonight.”

Williams transferred to TCU from New Mexico Junior College after not receiving any Division 1 offers out of high school and overcame multiple knee injuries before starting in all but one game during his junior and senior seasons.

Kenrich Williams drives to the rim against Kansas State on Senior Night. Photo by Cristian ArguetaSoto.

“I thought [Williams] did a great job,” Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. “The one thing that you find out in all this is guys have an opportunity, and some guys really take advantage of it. Last night he had 16 rebounds, and tonight he makes five three-pointers. You give those guys an opportunity, and you’re happy when they take advantage of it.”

However, Williams had an unconventional path to the league and a spot on a professional roster was never guaranteed. His coaches thought he was in a good position heading into the NBA Draft until red flags appeared during a pre-draft physical.

“So now he’s got to battle himself again and make decisions and make choices and take a two-way contract and stick with believing in himself,” TCU head coach Jamie Dixon said.

Williams now sits alone as the only free agent in the league on a full contract.

“It gives us hope,” forward J.D. Miller said. “He’s just making a rep for us to get up there with him.”

Dixon said Williams’ success will only help the program in the future.

“You recruit kids and tell them you’re going to make them better, and there’s no better story than an unrecruited high school kid becoming an NBA player and developing him as he’s here,” Dixon said.

Williams and the Pelicans will return to the hardwood at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday against the Spurs in San Antonio.