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Been there, done that: How battle-tested guard is taking on leadership role for BYU

Rudi Williams spent the 2021-22 season at Coastal Carolina; he’s also played at Kansas State and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M

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BYU’s Rudi Williams shows off his leaping abilities during Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center earlier this month.

BYU newcomer Rudi Williams shows off his leaping abilities during a Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center earlier this month.

Matthew Norton, BYU Photo

Senior guard Ruedale “Rudi” Williams hasn’t been at BYU very long, having transferred in from Coastal Carolina last summer, but as part of a young team going through some transition, he’s played a big role so far.

“He’s got a joy about the game. He’s got intensity and a veteran feel about him. He’s been through the wars and the battles and has logged a ton of minutes. His personality is really special for us. He’s actually going to be important on the leadership front.” — BYU coach Mark Pope on newcomer Rudi Williams

And that’s expected to continue throughout the season.

With three-year starter Alex Barcello now playing professionally overseas, Williams is stepping in to provide the Cougars much-needed experience and leadership.

“Rudi Williams is brand new here and he’s got a real, instinctual leadership ability. He’s got a charisma about him,” said coach Mark Pope. “He’s got a joy about the game. He’s got intensity and a veteran feel about him. He’s been through the wars and the battles and has logged a ton of minutes. His personality is really special for us. He’s actually going to be important on the leadership front.”

Williams averaged 14.7 points, 3.2 assists and 1.5 steals per game at Coastal Carolina last season. He shot 51% from the field and 44.7% from the 3-point line. 

Don’t be surprised to hear chants of “Rudi! Rudi! Rudi!” at the Marriott Center this season.

Williams, who has one year of eligibility remaining, understands what’s expected of him this season and he embraces the challenge. 

“I’m just trying to do my job to make this thing work. What I’ve done so far is lead by example. I’m not going to tell (guard) Jaxson Robinson or (guard) Dallin Hall to do something that I wouldn’t do,” he said. “If I’m gonna tell them to dive on the floor, I’m gonna dive on the floor as well. … Having a voice during the tough times. Everyone’s happy when things are good. But when times are rough, that’s when someone has to take charge and turn things around in practices or games.”

This is Williams’ fourth school during his college career, so he knows about tough times. 

The Hamilton, Ontario, Canada native previously played at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M (2018-20), Kansas State (2020-21) and Coastal Carolina (2021-2022).

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Kansas State guard Rudi Williams dribbles during game against Oklahoma, Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2021, in Norman, Okla. The BYU newcomer has also logged minutes at Coastal Carolina and Northeastern Oklahoma A&M.

Sue Ogrocki, Associated Press

“He’s logged some failures. And every player that’s a super-senior has logged some failures. That’s not unique to him,” Pope said of Williams. “But when you’ve logged some failures, you start to realize that, ‘You know what, if I fail I’m going to wake up tomorrow morning and actually nothing’s going to be different than if I’d won. I’m going to get back to work and work hard.’ You’re not scared of it anymore.

“He doesn’t have a lot of fear right now,” Pope continued. “He knows exactly why he’s here. He chose this. He was a heavily recruited guy. He knew exactly what he was looking for. I think that brings confidence to him. He feels the faith that his teammates have in him. That brings confidence to him. And I also think he innately has a charisma and a swag that is attractive to people.”

Williams’ teammates have been impressed with his talent, work ethic and leadership skills. 

“I’ve loved being able to work out with Rudi and to play next to him and play with him. He’s taught me a lot already. I’m always asking him questions because he has that experience in college basketball and he’s a great player,” Hall said. “From him, I’ve seen him start to step up with his voice and leading. He loves the environment with the fans and the ROC. And they love him. He’s a fan favorite.

“This year, I’m expecting him to lead us to March Madness and a bunch of wins with his leadership, his shooting and knowledge of the game. I’m going to take every opportunity this year I can to learn from him, ask him questions and pick his brain,” Hall continued.” That’s one thing he’s done since he got here. He’s been really open and really seeking to help us younger guys learn the game and get better. He pushes us every day. I expect a lot of big things from Ruedale. He’s a great teammate and a great player. I expect him to play some professional basketball after his time here.” 

Williams is constantly talking to people, looking for ways to lift them up. 

“When you think about a point guard, you think about someone that talks to everybody and a team leader. Rudi is that,” said guard Spencer Johnson. “I’ve never been in the locker room and he hasn’t been on the phone talking to somebody or one of his teammates. He talks all of the time, which is great for a point guard. That’s what you want.

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BYU’s Rudi Williams, right, and Gideon George entertain the fans at Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center earlier this month.

Matthew Norton, BYU Photo

“He’s been really solid on the court, too. He has a really good feel for the game. He can make shots, he runs the pick-and-roll really well. He’s solid on defense. He’s super fun to play with. I’m looking forward to playing with him.”

Guard Trey Stewart said he and his teammates will be looking to Williams for guidance. 

“He has five years of experience on his resume, at (three) different schools. All of his experiences have been so crucial for us to have because we’re a young team and we don’t have that experience,” he said. “We’ll be playing defense and Pope is like, ‘Don’t let this guy get a shot off. Don’t let him see the hoop.’ Then one of our freshmen will let him get a shot off and Rudi comes over and says, ‘I promise you will play guys like that that are knockdown shooters. If you give them an inch, they’ll take advantage of it.’ Having that voice of someone that’s been through it is so crucial on our team. We’re grateful to have Rudi.”

Williams said he likes to think of himself “as a quarterback” on the floor. 

“That’s my job to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing and where to be,” he said. “That’s my part of making this whole thing work and hopefully that correlates to us winning a lot of ball games in November and December. That’s how I look at it.”

New assistant coach Kahil Fennell likes how Williams draws upon his experiences to help his teammates. 

“There are guys that have been through wars and they’ve led teams before. Whether they’re experienced it at BYU or their last stop, they’ve done it at a really high level,” he said. “When guys have led teams, guys are drawn to that. If they come in with a voice and with confidence and they have a track record of winning and success, that translates.

“Rudi’s done an unbelievable job of bringing that here. He’s been around. His experience at a high-major level, at Kansas State, is going to be really important for him and really important for us. … His voice and leadership on the floor, as well as his production, has been really exciting. I’m looking forward to what he can do this year.”

Players react differently “when the lights come on,” Pope said. Williams is one that loves the pressure and the attention.

“There are players when the lights come on they feel self-conscious. Some don’t care. And some say yes, this is my moment. He lives there a little bit,” he said of Williams. “He’s also a terrific basketball player. He’s a career 40-plus 3-point shooter. He’s a really physical player. I love point guards that are convinced that they know more about the game than I do; he certainly would tell you that’s the case. He’s bringing a lot to the table and we’re super excited about it.”

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BYU guard fives a fan during Midnight Madness event at the Marriott Center earlier this month.

Matthew Norton, BYU Photo