UK basketball transfer Amari Williams ‘a man among boys on the court,’ Mark Pope says

Kentucky has officially announced the first NCAA transfer portal addition of the Mark Pope era.

On Tuesday afternoon, UK confirmed that former Drexel forward Amari Williams would be transferring to UK ahead of the 2024-25 season, which will be Pope’s first season as the Wildcats’ head coach.

“At times, Amari Williams looks like a man among boys on the court,” Pope said in UK’s news release announcing the addition of Williams. “... He is bringing a big presence to the game and is going to serve as a rim-protector and rebounder. Amari is a gifted defensive player who can switch onto any position, one through five, which will add security to how everybody else feels on the court.”

On Sunday, Williams committed to Kentucky following a weekend recruiting visit to Lexington. Mississippi State and St. John’s were two other schools that made Williams’ final shortlist.

Williams has one season of college eligibility remaining.

A 6-foot-10 forward with a 7-foot-5 wingspan, Williams played the last four seasons at Drexel in Philadelphia. He is considered an elite big man: Williams won the last three Coastal Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year awards and led that conference in blocks in each of the last three seasons.

During his four-year career at Drexel, Williams played in 105 career games and had averages of 10.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 1.8 blocks and 1.6 assists per contest.

“His shot blocking ability is definitely the part of Williams’ game I think myself and Drexel fans will remember the most,” Owen McCue, an assistant editor at the Philadelphia basketball-focused publication City of Basketball Love, told the Herald-Leader. “He’s a good athlete with length and great vision, often getting his hands on shot attempts when it didn’t even seem like he was near the play.”

Williams was a CAA First Team selection in each of the last two seasons and also averaged more than 12 points per game during both the 2022-23 and 2023-24 seasons.

Last season, Williams led Drexel in rebounds (7.8 per game) and blocks (1.8 per game). He was ranked second in points (12.2 per game), assists (1.9 per game) and steals (0.8 per game). Williams committed a team-high 2.4 turnovers for a Drexel team that went 20-12 overall, 13-5 in league games and lost in the quarterfinals of the CAA Tournament.

“He’s a solid addition to the team. And he’s a guy that fits the way Pope plays,” 247Sports national analyst Travis Branham told the Herald-Leader about Williams joining the UK roster. “I’ve talked to other coaches in the CAA — obviously, he’s a three-time defensive player of the year in the conference — and the way people describe him is, obviously this is kind of an outlandish thing, but almost like a (Nikola) Jokic-style player.”

Kentucky men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope, left, watches a horse race at Keeneland with college basketball player Amari Williams. Formerly a four-year player at Drexel, Williams will transfer to UK for the 2024-25 season. Keeneland
Kentucky men’s basketball head coach Mark Pope, left, watches a horse race at Keeneland with college basketball player Amari Williams. Formerly a four-year player at Drexel, Williams will transfer to UK for the 2024-25 season. Keeneland

Per KenPom, Williams had the 28th-best defensive rebounding percentage in the country (26.2%) and the 65th-best offensive rebounding percentage (12.7%) last season.

Also per KenPom, Williams excelled nationally when it came to block percentage (8.5%, which was 39th in the nation) and fouls drawn per 40 minutes (6.8 fouls drawn, which was 23rd).

According to college basketball statistician Evan Miyakawa, Williams ranks as the No. 114 overall transfer in the portal, as of Tuesday afternoon.

“Offensively, he is dangerous at the rim and he’s one of the special passers in college basketball,” Pope added about Williams. “Amari can make all of the reads, all of the passes, all of the plays and he fits into exactly what we want to do on either end of the court.”

In addition to being a defensive force, Williams also shouldered a significant offensive load for Drexel last season.

According to KenPom, Williams ranked 18th in the nation in percentage of possessions used, which is defined as “credit or blame to a player when his actions end a possession, either by making a shot, missing a shot that isn’t rebounded by the offense or committing a turnover.” Williams had a percentage of possessions used of 31.8% last season with the Dragons.

“I can’t foresee him being an offensive centerpiece at the SEC level, but he seems to see the floor well and can pile up a few assists and clean up on the glass,” McCue, the City of Basketball Love editor, added. “It’s obvious, but finding ways to combat the increase in size and athleticism (from opponents) on a nightly basis will be the biggest thing for him to work on.”

Williams represents a slew of firsts when it comes to Pope’s transfer portal activities as the Kentucky coach.

Williams was the first player from the transfer portal to schedule a visit to UK with Pope as the head coach. News of the planned visit, which occurred last weekend, surfaced just hours before Pope was formally introduced as UK’s coach at Rupp Arena.

Last weekend’s visit to Lexington for Williams included a stop at Keeneland, with Pope, during the track’s 2024 Spring Meet.

“We’re deeply into the work right now and enjoying every second of it,” Pope said during an interview with FanDuel Racing while at the track. “I’m not sure exactly what I’m allowed to talk about and not, but we’re here on business. So, we’re trying to get some work done.”

Williams shares an agent with Great Osobor, the former Montana State and Utah State forward who is in the transfer portal and is scheduled to visit UK later this month.

Amari Williams third confirmed player for UK basketball next season

UK’s confirmation of Williams’ arrival comes while he has also declared for the 2024 NBA draft. ESPN NBA reporter Adrian Wojnarowski reported following Williams’ commitment to UK that the England native is still exploring the NBA pre-draft process.

Williams is not listed by ESPN among that organization’s top-100 prospects for the 2024 NBA draft.

College basketball players have until May 1 to enter the transfer portal, and the early-entry deadline for the 2024 NBA draft is April 27. Players who enter the draft with remaining NCAA eligibility will have until May 29 to remove their names from consideration and return to school.

Williams is one of three players confirmed to be part of Pope’s plans next season.

He joins a pair of incoming freshmen: Collin Chandler (a combo guard who was formerly signed to play for Pope at BYU) and Travis Perry, the all-time leading scorer in Kentucky high school boys basketball history who committed to and signed with UK last fall when John Calipari was the head coach.

UK officially announced Chandler as an incoming player on Monday afternoon. Perry confirmed his intention to come to Kentucky and play for Pope on Monday night.

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