Let's start with blunt honesty: While the hyperbole surrounding Ohio State big man Amir Williams borders on the absurd – despite him being the Buckeyes' second-most efficient defender – the truth about him as a player, as these things tend to do, lies somewhere in the middle.
Since Ohio State's frustrating, letdown early exit at the hands of in-state Dayton, one of the most recurring jokes surrounds a still photo that appeared to first originate from either a Cleveland.com or AP staff photo. The photo's taken on a life of its own ever since, being used for everything from cheap SportsNation jokes (please RT) to actually amusing gags, with even partisan Ohio State outlets piling on to bury Amir over a perceived lack of effort.
But what actually transpired on that sequence that led to that still playing out the way it did? Was the photo even in context, or was it just a convenient visual gag from which to kick a player who's failed to live up to high expectations while he and his team were down? Let's start by revisiting the ostensible origin point of the photo:
Looking through photos for my story and I come across this. Is this Amir Williams in a nutshell? pic.twitter.com/HpFdTpZPZN— Ari Wasserman (@AriWasserman) March 20, 2014
Friend of the Holy Land Ari Wasserman posted it after seeing it in his photo tool, and hey, his point – at least with regard to OSU fans' frustrations with the big man – isn't totally lost. But what's going on in the background and what went down that would cause a player of Amir's reputation and perception to do, well, what it looks like he is? Wouldn't that kind of lack of effort culminate in immediate admonishment or benching (even in a game of the magnitude the Dayton one presented)?
First, to identify when the play occurred, we looked at the context clues. In the background, you can see the official still in the midst of signaling/explaining a foul call. Was it on Amir? While he finished with almost eight points less than his season average – which, an 0-2 shooting performance in an NCAA Tournament game can't entirely be because of the work Dayton big Matt Kavanaugh was doing on him – he committed but a single foul in the entire game. He also played five minutes less than his season average as OSU went small early and often.
Unlike the brutal Gonzaga-Oklahoma State contest and a few other choice tournament games from last weekend's action, neither team committed particularly a ton of fouls. The Flyers were responsible for only 14 while the Buckeyes conceded just two more. The officials by and large let both teams play.
Though there's not a ton more context to draw from what we're seeing, it's safe to presume the player involved in the play was Dayton's #21, sophomore forward Dyshawn Pierre. Unsurprisingly Amir's lone foul was against his post counterpart, Kavanaugh, so it had to be against someone else.
Williams' first and only foul actually came just after five minutes had been played in the game, so credit where credit's due: he managed another 10 minutes of action playing mostly disciplined defensive basketball.
Ohio State's second foul in the contest was on Trey McDonald, which surprise, given that Amir was in, wasn't this same sequence.
Just going chronologically through the game action, we get to the third foul on the Buckeyes in the game, at the 7:49 mark on Sam Thompson. Let's queue up the video to see the entire sequence:
Nailed it. Your criticism of Amir not showing enough effort is after action has been stopped and well after the whistle has been blown. He failed to jump to your satisfaction to intentionally avoid making contact with a player in a dead ball situation.
Amir actually does a lot of other things right on the sequence to boot. He switches his man, he plays help-side defense, he does a leg kick to try and prevent a bounce pass, he bodies up his man, and he doesn't mug a guy after a play is whistled dead. Let's isolate the end of the sequence to see further how ridiculous the criticism of that play is:
Amir Williams doesn't get enough praise for the good he does bring to the basketball court, and gets every bit the flak he deserves (and then some) for his sometimes lack of focus, his occasional seeming to have two left hands, and the fact of the matter that for being a composite four-star recruit out of high school, it took him close to three seasons to play closer to a three-star's caliber. Nonetheless, he's still made positive headway during that period and Williams' importance in the coming season will only be magnified.
There's plenty of fair and merited criticism to go around for Amir Williams. But regarding that still in the Dayton game and any so-called shortcomings in that sequence?
Get off his d –– back.
SB Nation's Sarah Hardy contributed to this report.