The practice scoreboard loomed large during James Miller’s tenure as head coach at New Mexico Junior College. “They see 19:43 on the clock and everyone’s like, ‘Oh man…’” Miller says. Those digital numbers bespoke conditioning terror. The drill, dubbed “20 in 20,” required a full suicide sprint by the time 19:00 appeared on the clock. Players rested during the next 17 seconds, another complete suicide looming before the clock reached 18:00. After each pair of dashes, the allotted time would trickle down by two seconds, funneling towards the ultimate minute when New Mexico’s players had to cross the final, 20th baseline in just 33 seconds.
“Only two guys could actually make the time, every time,” says Miller, currently an assistant at North Texas. “Chris Boucher, who’s now with the Warriors, and Kenrich Williams. It shows not only what kind of shape you’re in, but what kind of toughness you have.”
Boucher, by way of Oregon, recently earned a ring with Golden State on a two-way contract. After starring at TCU, Williams seems destined to join his former running mate in the league, having established a clear market in the second round of Thursday’s NBA Draft. “When he signed at TCU, I had a coach who had recruited him at lower Division I just flat tell me, ‘He’s not good enough to play at that level,’” Miller says. “I had the same coach text me about three weeks ago saying, ‘I guess I was way wrong.’” At a true 6’6” without shoes, Williams boasts the versatile skill set requisite for today’s coveted 3-and-D wing players, complete with the most unique hairstyle among this year’s class.
Yet only five years ago, Williams garnered zero Division I scholarship offers out of high school. Playing multiple years for a local Waco, Texas, AAU outfit limited his exposure to top level college coaches. By the time he joined a premier Dallas/Fort Worth area club, Williams was far behind the recruiting curve of his peers. Curiously, his hometown Baylor Bears completely overlooked the rangy, young athlete, despite Williams often tagging along with former Baylor swingman Terrance Thomas to the school’s practice gym. They would fire jumpers late into the evening and run pickup with other Bears players. The staff somehow never noticed the high schooler locking down Big 12 playmakers. “It’s crazy, man,” Williams recalls. “Knowing you're good enough to play Division I out of high school, it was tough.”
He instead ventured to Hobbs, N.M., an isolated town in the desert ripe for basketball reclamation projects. Miller’s players attended class, poured sweat through his marathon practices, and collapsed into their dorm room twin beds from exhaustion. The JUCO’s surroundings didn’t offer much else. “There was a Wal-Mart, McDonald’s, a few other restaurants,” Williams says. “But that’s about it.”
The Thunderbirds thrived behind Boucher and Williams, ranking as high as No. 7 in the nation and advancing to the second round of the NJCAA national tournament. By then, high-major programs finally came calling. And the Horned Frogs, a mere 90-minute drive from his mother, Cheryl, presented a unique blend of proximity to home with an upstart Big 12 program offering immediate playing time. “I knew I had a chance to turn TCU into something special,” Williams says.
Williams’s inaugural campaign went off without hitch in ‘14–15, filling an adequate off-ball role on the wing as a sophomore in Trent Johnson’s scheme. He contributed 8.6 points, 6.7 rebounds and 1.4 assists in 27.8 minutes per game, yet pain in his knees lingered throughout the season. Williams underwent two procedures during the following summer, but the surgeries didn't work. Midway through September 2015, Williams opted to undergo microfracture surgery, effectively eliminating his junior season before it even began. “It crushed me,” Williams says. Watching his teammates falter to a 12–21 season and drop 12 of 18 conference games, further drained him.
Those losses still provided opportunities for growth. Williams deeply dissected the action in which he could not participate, realizing how ball handlers could single-handedly manipulate the pace of an entire game. He was always a ballhawk, and from the sideline, he further grasped how to better time jumping passing lanes, how a weak side defender can drift into the shadow of a stagnant off-ball opponent, only to shoot a gap when the point guard finally looks that direction. “Kind of play cat and mouse with it,” Williams says. “You think I’m with my man, but I’m really not. I’m looking at the ball the whole time.” He observed how to dig in and swipe the ball clean when helping on low post touches. He studied Big 12 rivals’ tendencies. Williams nearly doubled his steals the following season as a red-shirt junior, swiping 1.5 per contest.
At New Mexico, Williams attempted just one three-pointer the entire year. A smooth shot had long been the missing piece of his offensive arsenal, yet he incessantly snuck into the Thunderbird’s gym to iron out his jumper’s wrinkles. The ball’s bounce would startle the coaching staff working in their nearby offices. “Pretty much every single time I’d look into the gym,” Miller says, “it’d be Kenrich working on his mid-range, his free throws, his threes.” While Williams later rehabbed his knee at TCU, he would drag a chair under the basket before the Horned Frogs practiced, ingraining form shooting into his muscle memory. “I knew eventually that would make me money,” Williams says. Once his joints regained full strength, he befriended TCU’s shooting gun, hoisting and hoisting until he mirrored a consistent release with each jumper.
Williams drained 36.3% of his 124 triples as a redshirt-junior, firing from deep in new coach Jamie Dixon’s system. The fresh staff had heard of Williams’s motor and rebounding ability. They didn't know about his knack for playmaking and improved comfort as a shooter. Attacking the rim was still deeply rooted in Williams’s offensive makeup, as he often forfeited mid-range looks to dash toward the basket, hurtling defenders to finish above the tin. “He was passing up wide open shots,” Dixon recalls.
Still, Dixon summoned Williams into his office during the summer of 2017, challenging his star swingman to drill 40% of his looks from beyond the arc as a senior. “And he took it to another level,” Dixon says. He poured in 39.5% of his threes this past season, utilizing a more confident and higher release, helping lead TCU to a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Complementing his improved stroke, Williams averaged 3.9 assists per outing from the wing, even spearheading 125 pick-and-rolls as a ball-handler, generating a terrific 1.048 points per possession, per Synergy Sports. “Every game I felt more comfortable coming off the ball screen,” Williams says.
Williams also marked the Dixon era with a different appearance. He followed a former Horned Frogs teammate Kyan Anderson into Gleason Lewis’ barbershop on McCart Avenue in Fort Worth before his redshirt-junior season. “We wanted to find something that fits him and identifies with him,” Lewis says. Williams has long experimented with his hair, test-running different styles.
The duo agreed he should audition “the shag,” a classic style that ruled the DFW area in the 1970s and '80s. The shag keeps the top of the head closely trimmed, unfurling in the back with a flowing fro. Williams’s look features a 1.5–to–0 fade on the sides, dark waves rolling across his dome. “People see my hair, they know I’m from Texas,” Williams says. “You have to be a confident person to pull something out like that,” Lewis says. It originally took Williams three months to sprout enough tuft for the rear. During his career, he frequented Lewis’ Barber All-Stars every two weeks to shape up his famous ‘do, when Lewis would maintain the back with sheers. While Williams placed second in scoring (13.2) and paced the Horned Frogs in rebounding (9.3), over 20 TCU fans and a few local entertainers flooded Lewis’s shop, pleading, “Let me get the K-Rich.”
They’re asking to emulate a wing tailor-made for the modern NBA. He boasts the defensive malleability teams now crave in heavy-switching schemes. He attacks the glass like few true perimeter players. Already 23 years old, Williams seems poised to be the rare draft dotard selected in the second round, injury history notwithstanding. A lucky team can immediately cycle him into its perimeter rotation, where he’ll run the floor like he’s outpacing New Mexico’s ticking clock, shag flowing in his wake.