WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- During halftime of a game at Wake Forest last week, Georgia Tech center Luke Schenscher looked like an ostrich under the stands of Lawrence Joel Coliseum, with his long neck and bushy head of red curls buried in a trash can while he vomited.
The prospect of facing Demon Deacons junior Eric Williams this season could make anyone sick.
Eric Williams has cut down on fouls, and his weight, and averages 16 points, 7.7 rebounds.
(Chuck Burton -- AP)
Williams, from Wake Forest, N.C., might be the most improved front-court player in college basketball. Entering Friday's ACC quarterfinal against North Carolina State or Florida State at MCI Center, Williams is averaging a career-high 16 points and 7.7 rebounds. He has made 62.1 percent of his shots, best in the ACC, and is ninth in scoring and sixth in rebounding. He was named on Monday to the all-ACC second team.
"He's a terrific player," Georgia Tech Coach Paul Hewitt said. "In my opinion, the most improved player on their team."
Williams, 6 feet 9, is one of the biggest reasons the No. 3 Demon Deacons are a popular choice to reach the Final Four in St. Louis next month. Also blessed with having first-team all-conference point guard Chris Paul and shooting guard Justin Gray, a second-team all-ACC selection, Wake Forest is one of the few teams that has star power in its back court and front court.
Williams is "surrounded by good guys," Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski said. "So it's tough to double-team him. And if you don't double-team him, he's going to be a monster in there."
Until this season, Williams had not stayed on the floor long enough to become a big threat. He fouled out of five games as a freshman during the 2002-03 season and seven more last year. Last season, Williams averaged one foul every 7.1 minutes played; he is averaging one foul every 10.8 minutes this year.
"I think he has stayed out on the floor longer," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "That has really benefited our team. I think he's gotten wiser with his years. I think he understands his value to the team, and he's staying away from those unnecessary fouls."
After a summer that included a bout with dehydration, which caused him to miss most of the tryouts for the under-20 national team, Williams reported back to campus about 25 pounds lighter. He has lost more than 30 pounds since his freshman season, going from 323 to 291, which has helped his stamina and durability.
"It allows him to get places a little quicker," Prosser said. "Sometimes, that half of a second might be the difference between a foul and being in position."
Williams, who turns 21 on March 26, still has a lot of room for improvement. He struggled against the ACC's two most dominant post players, North Carolina's Sean May and Duke's Shelden Williams. In the Demon Deacons' 95-82 win over the Tar Heels on Jan. 15, Williams had eight points, four rebounds and four turnovers before fouling out. In two games against the Blue Devils, he scored 29 points and grabbed 21 rebounds, but made only 9 of 24 shots.
Prosser said Williams still isn't aggressive enough on the court at times. During his first two seasons, Williams was criticized for being soft and not taking advantage of his wide frame and strength.
"It's tough to have a presence in the post when your post doesn't have any presence," Prosser said. "He's gotten better at demanding the ball. . . . He has not gotten meaner. He is who he is. He's a nice kid with a big smile. If the worst thing you can say about somebody is they're too nice, that's not that bad."
Prosser became so frustrated with Williams last season that he took him out of the starting lineup for seven games. But along with his conditioning, Williams has improved his offensive game, eliminating the double-pumps and dribbling in the lane that often led to turnovers last season.
"It feels really good staying out on the floor, finally," Williams said. "I don't call it having a mean streak or anything like that. I don't have a problem being aggressive, but I'm just not a mean person. That's not who I am."