When Kenrich Williams first joined the Thunder roster last summer, there wasn’t much time before training camp began for the staff to uncover much about the 6-foot-6 wing. However, by the end of the season, Williams had earned the reputation as the most respected guy in the Thunder locker room.
“I think building that reputation is just being yourself,” Williams reflected during his end of season interview. “If you try to be someone you’re not, then I don’t think guys will respect that as much but if you just come in and be yourself, I think guys and a lot of people in the organization will respect you for being yourself.”
With that mentality, it didn’t take long for Williams to define himself among the group. It quickly became evident to everyone in the organization how he earned the nickname Kenny Hustle – a moniker he earned during his time in college at Texas Christian University (TCU) for the energy and effort he displayed on the court. But even before his collegiate career, Williams had been well versed in overcoming adversity and scrapping for his opportunities.
Growing up in Waco, Texas, there was a time when Williams and his brothers banded together to mow lawns and other jobs to help pay bills when their mother lost her job. As a senior in high school with no Division 1 offers, Williams played a year at New Mexico Junior College before earning the chance to play at TCU. Then after a three-year stint in Fort Worth, Williams went undrafted in 2018 and had to work his way into a roster spot with the Pelicans.
So by the time Williams arrived in the Thunder organization in 2020, hustle had been woven into the fabric of his identity.
"Rain or shine, you know he's just going to bring it. He's turned that into a competitive habit and I think when you compete like that good things happen.”
For the first third of the season, Williams appeared in limited game action – averaging just 13 minutes of playing time over the first 20 games of the season. It was during this part of the season that he and several other reserves in the lineup would arrive early to the facility on the practice days to play 3-on-3. The group became affectionately known as the Breakfast Club.
Even in those early morning 3-on-3 games without an audience, when it would have been easy to mail it in, Williams spilled it—playing with the same energy and intensity as he would in front of a sold-out crowd with the game on the line. Diving on the floor for loose balls, ripping down rebounds and playing with his patented Kenny Hustle intensity.
When Williams became a fixture in the rotation midway through the season, that hustle was given the spotlight for all to see. Over the next 46 games that Williams played, he jumped to 25 minutes per game while averaging a career-high 9.6 points and shooting a career-best 44-percent from the 3-point line. All the while, Kenny Hustle maintained the anchors to his game: defending with energy, rebounding the ball and doing the dirty work.
In one shining example of his value on both ends of the floor, Williams scored a career-high 24 points in an overtime game against the Lakers in February. In that contest, the 6-foot-6 slasher went 11-of-14 from the field including 2-of-3 from the 3-point line. He also racked up six boards and three steals in his 40 minutes of playing time.
“Rain or shine, you know he's just going to bring it,” Daigneault said following Williams’ career night against the Lakers. “He's turned that into a competitive habit and as a result, I think when you compete like that good things happen.”
Williams took pride in the small, intangible effort plays that don’t necessarily show up on a stat sheet—defensive stops, box outs and deflections. Even still, by the end of the season the numbers reflected his mentality, ranking second on the team in total steals (55), third in offensive rebounds (84) and only trailing Lu Dort in offensive fouls drawn with 15. On the offensive end, Williams also put up some of the best numbers in his three-year career.
Not only did he average a career-best eight points per game, but he shot an overall 44-percent clip from the 3-point line after shooting 33 percent and 25.8 percent in his first two seasons. The numbers were more than just a testament to the diligent work he put in with the coaching staff, but also spoke to the strides he took in his decision-making and shot selection.
“It was a two-year process,” Williams said on how he was able to become a more consistent shooter. “My first two years in the league, I was trying to figure out where my strengths are on the floor in terms of shooting. This year I figured it out. I think that definitely helped a lot in terms of my 3-point shooting percentage.”
For Williams, his competitive habit, hustle and hard work stemmed from the desire to not take a single game for granted. At the core, Williams was simply grateful for the opportunity to play and compete. Williams hadn’t played a full slate of games in either of his two seasons before joining the Thunder. He had been assigned to the G-League for the majority of his rookie season, then a back injury kept him out of playing time for over half of his second year.
By the time the 26-year-old was gearing up for year three, he wanted to make sure he was fully prepared to take advantage of any and all opportunities he was given – regardless of what they looked like or when they arrived. That meant during the offseason, he spent every day putting in work. During the day, Williams and his wife would go to the court to get shots up and in the evenings, he would lace up again to play pickup, putting himself in game-like situations.
What Williams did under the bright lights in year three was born when no one else was watching. More than just shooting a career-best from behind the arc, a career high in points and playing the most games in a single season of his career, that relentless and consistent hustle earned Williams the respect and appreciation of his coaching staff and his teammates. In turn, that respect helped Williams grow as a player too.
“I think the relationships I’ve built here will last a lifetime,” said Williams. “Just meeting genuine people, genuine teammates – everybody to be honest – in the whole organization. That helped me out a lot this year. I think with a great organization like the Thunder, it will continue to help guys coming in as well.”