COLUMBIA -- When South Carolina basketball coach Darrin Horn inserted four bench players five minutes into Friday night's season opener against Western Carolina, he told the players he wanted them to bring energy and motivate the starters.
That just so happens to be one of the things sophomore guard Brenton Williams does best. In last week's exhibition win over Kentucky Wesleyan, he chased a loose ball, crashed through the opposing bench and knocked over a table.
Horn saw more of the same Friday from Williams as the Gamecocks won, 75-50, pulling away after the game was tied at 16 with 9:26 left in the first half. Williams played 17 minutes, shot 5 of 8, scored 13 points and had five steals.
During one furious minute midway through the second half, he dove on the floor for a loose ball, resulting in a jump ball; leaped to steal a pass; then did the same on Western Carolina's next possession, as he glided down the floor with the stolen ball and dunked it to put USC up 51-33.
USC's highly regarded freshmen, power forward Anthony Gill and shooting guard Damien Leonard, received much attention leading up to the season. And Gill did lead the Gamecocks with 14 points. But the performance of Williams, who played at a junior college last year, underscored the importance of bench players contributing for the Gamecocks, who lack a proven offensive threat.
Horn needed bodies in the backcourt after Ramon Galloway transferred to La Salle and Bruce Ellington, last year's leading scorer, joined the football team, delaying the start of his basketball season this year. Horn liked what he saw from Williams, who averaged 11.8 during his limited junior college action.
"The thing that intrigued us about Brenton in the recruiting process is, as we saw tonight, he's freaky athletic," Horn said. "When you look at his numbers in a junior college season, he was incredibly efficient with how he scored and how he played. For the most part, we've seen that in practice. We saw that tonight. I don't know if it's going to be double figures (scoring) every night, but athletically, he's capable of coming in and helping."
Williams, who is 5-11, not only has a role as an energy provider, he also has a nickname: Bill. Teammates Eric Smith and Brian Richardson gave it to him a couple weeks ago, because they think he looks like the bald 5-year-old boy title character from "Little Bill," a children's cartoon television show created by Bill Cosby.
"I'm used to it now," Williams said of the nickname. "So it doesn't really bother me that much."
He wasn't used to playing major college basketball, though he showed Friday he could play a part in Horn rebuilding his team and moving past last season's 14-16 record, and 2-11 finish.
"I was a little bit nervous," he said. "Not as nervous as I was in the exhibition game. But my teammates, during warm-ups, they see me get a little quiet and they say, 'Don't worry about the bright lights.' "