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After season-long injury, Blayton Williams could be GB’s X-factor

Perhaps the biggest question heading into Green Bay’s 2021/2022 college basketball season is how the team will be able to replace the departed guard trio of PJ Pipes, Amari Davis, and Josh Jefferson. That three-headed monster accounted for 57% of the Phoenix scoring a season ago leaving a gaping hole in the Green Bay offense.

Newcomer guards like Mitch Listau, Kamari McGee, Randy Tucker, and Donovan Ivory will likely need to contribute right away but the Phoenix best option to replace some of that production is likely a player who was on the roster a season ago.

Blayton Williams, the 6’2” guard from West Memphis, Arkansas, could be poised for a big season after sitting out all of last season due to injury. He was expected to be a contributor last season but suffered torn labrums in both hips prior to the start of official practice that ultimately required double hip surgery.

He spent the entire season and this past offseason recovering and now the junior college transfer is likely going to play a crucial role in the Green Bay lineup this season.

“Blayton is a kid who I am dying to coach,” Phoenix head coach Will Ryan said on the PTP Podcast back in April. “He is a special kid.”

“He led us on the hills…we run the Baird Creek sledding hill. We ran those [last] fall and little did we know Blayton Williams had torn labrums in both hips, and yet he’s leading us on the hills.”

As a sophomore at Lamar Community College in Colorado he averaged 13.6 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game and ranked just outside of the Top 100 for the class of 2020. He is one of five Linc Darner recruits still on the roster after choosing to stay with the program despite the coaching change.

This season, Green Bay fans will finally get a glimpse at what Williams can bring to the table. He likely would’ve provided much needed depth last season – something that was sorely missing even in the season ending loss to Purdue Fort Wayne in the Horizon League Tournament – but most likely will be given a shot at a starting role this season.

“We would’ve loved to have him out on the floor [last season] because he’s a really good player,” Ryan said in April. “He plays at his own pace. He can play essentially the one through the three, 6’2”, strong, he’s a good athlete.”

Being able to play all three guard spots means that versatility will allow him to be on the floor with all kinds of lineup combinations, whether Green Bay decides to play some three guard small ball or perhaps have a wing like Manny Ansong or Brayden Dailey in at a small forward position with two other big men to help in the defense and rebounding department.

It’s been a long road to recovery but all signs are pointing to him being on the floor when the season starts in November.

“He’ll definitely get back to form, hopefully he gets back to where he was,” Ryan said. “He was going up and playing above the rim off two feet even with torn labrums in his hip, I was like ‘I didn’t think he could do that.’ So that was good to see.”

“Everyday he [was] sitting over there in what we call the spa, which is the corner of the Dick Bennett practice gym where the injured guys hang out. Blayton is over there and he’s on the bike, he just attacks his rehab like nobody’s business. Like oh my God, this kid’s a machine.”

With an influx of new players on the roster this season – 8 of the 15 players on the roster joined the program this past offseason – it will be somewhat reassuring to have a veteran presence with Williams and fellow guard Lucas Steiber leading the backcourt as both have a year under their belts in Ryan’s system.

To be sure, it will take a team effort to replace the production from a season ago. Plenty of question marks remain around who will step up and be the leaders of the 2021/2022 version of the Phoenix but Williams looks like a very good bet to be one of those players not just this year but next season as well with two seasons of eligibility remaining.

“He’s constantly soaking things in trying to learn and absorb everything that we’re teaching him,” Ryan said. “He’s a student of the game, he picks thing up quickly. He’s extremely coachable – yes sir, no sir, looks you in the eye. He’s a leader and we definitely missed his voice on the floor, we definitely could’ve used that. So we’re really excited to have him for two years.”

“We’re expecting some big things out of him. He does everything well – shoots it, passes it. I love that he loves to play defense, he steps in and take charges which we definitely didn’t do enough of [last] year.”

“He’s not afraid to scrap and claw. So, definitely much needed.”

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