Johnathan Williams III sits in an enviable position.
He has state and world championships to his name and could possibly start at power forward as a freshman for a team that has been to four straight NCAA tournaments.
But the rewards aren’t just picked off low-hanging branches. They come from a root, buried beneath the surface, seldom seen by most.
For Williams, that root is hard work, something his parents, Barbara and Johnny, instilled in him at a young age. Whether that meant studying for a test or taking extra shots, Williams worked for it.
“My parents emphasized grades,” Williams said. “They wanted me to be the best I could be academically and also physically or athletically.”
It paid off. Williams earned a spot on the honor roll at Southwind High School and a four-year starting position in the basketball lineup. He doesn’t think those are coincidences.
“If you have a work ethic with your books, you’re going to have a work ethic on the court as well,” Williams said.
His new coach has seen it too. Williams’ work ethic has Frank Haith excited about the potential of his top recruit (No. 55 in the ESPN 100 rankings).
“He’s a kid that will get better and better and better because he works his tail off,” Haith said.
Despite the high ceiling that Haith sees, Williams’ impact could be immediate. After the Black and Gold scrimmage, where Williams scored eight points and collected 11 rebounds, Haith raved about Williams, saying that he could start at some point this season.
“I could see J-Three being our starting (power forward), not that I put a premium on starting, but he does all the little things,” Haith said. “He plays so hard. He’s always in the gym, but as you can see, he’s got a knack for rebounding the ball. He’s got great instincts, and he can score a little bit. J-Three is a nice player.”
Before J-Three, former Tiger Laurence Bowers was Missouri’s star power forward. Bowers led the Tigers last season in scoring and now plays professionally in Israel. Both hailing from Memphis, Tenn., Williams said he played with Bowers as a teenager, and he also said it was nice to know someone from Memphis who had success in Columbia.
Their hometowns aside, the two have similarities in their games. When asked who Williams reminded him of the most, Haith said Bowers.
“He’s got a little L-Bo in him,” Haith said. “I think he has a chance to do some things like Laurence in terms of he can dribble into a post up, he’s got a good skill set. He really goes and rebounds the ball, too. I like that about him.”
Williams earned multiple opportunities to play with Team USA, winning gold medals in both the 2012 FIBA U17 World Championship and the 2011 FIBA Americas U16 Championship.
The chance to wear the red, white and blue gave him a chance to travel to places like Lithuania and the Canary Islands as well as match up with the world’s toughest competition.
“It meant a lot,” Williams said. “...It let me know that there are other great players out there in the world. And so basically, we’re all competing for the same dream.”
Williams said playing in international competitions taught him something about himself and his approach to the game.
“It made me learn a lot about myself,” Williams said. “USA is basically like a college team already. You’re playing with talented players already, and you’re playing against talented players, and so it made me understand, like, you just have to keep on working hard, and stay humble.”
Williams received offers from many programs. His top four came down to Georgetown, Tennessee, Michigan State and Missouri. Despite the myriad of prestigious offers, Williams preferred Missouri when it came to location, conference and coach.
“Well, I liked coach Haith, and I knew it was a family atmosphere,” Williams said. “(Missouri is) pretty close to home. I’m a family person. My parents can come watch me play, and they also play in the SEC, which is a big-time conference.”
Williams said he fits well in Haith’s system.
“I just continue to know my role,” Williams said. “Getting rebounds, playing really hard. If I have time to score points, I can, but right now I just want to play hard for the coaches and just play my role.”
That role includes a lot of playing time for a freshman. Journalism students familiar with the “Missouri Method” will see similarities between the J-School and Haith’s plan for Williams.
“I think he’s going to have freshman moments,” Haith said, “but the good thing is that we’re going to get him out there a lot early and let him play through some mistakes. But his effort, when kids play with effort, that heals a lot of mistakes.”
Despite the awards, accolades and trusting praise from his coach, Williams said he wants people to focus on the root more than the fruit.
“I don’t want people to just know me as a winner. I want people knowing me as a guy who will be on the court everyday, and work hard each and every day,” Williams said. “That’s what I want people to know me as. And once you do that, they’re going to know you as a winner just because of what your work ethic is.”