Darnell Williams makes his debut as a college head coach at No. 2 Kentucky Friday. It's the same Kentucky that beat Ottawa by 59 points in its first exhibition game.
In terms of getting your feet wet, it's like jumping into the deep end of the pool.
"With a couple of sharks in there," Williams said Wednesday.
Williams, who had been an assistant coach for Kentucky State the past three seasons, has a basic objective for his team in the game.
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"I just tell the guys to go out there and play hard," he said. "You know they're one of the best teams in the country. They might have five or six pros. So, I tell my guys, don't put too much weight on it. It's an exhibition game. Just go out there and give it your all."
Williams is no stranger to competing against a highly ranked team coached by John Calipari. As a freshman for Xavier, he played against a Calipari-coached Massachusetts team ranked No. 1 in the 1995-96 season. He scored 12 points, but UMass won in overtime 78-74.
Williams' 35 points against Duquesne in 1995-96 remains a record for a Xavier freshman.
As a high school player in New York City, Williams was recruited by UMass.
"It was between me and another guy from New York City, Charlton Clarke," Williams said.
Williams made a recruiting visit during UMass' Midnight Madness. Ultimately UMass got a commitment from Clarke, and Williams then chose Xavier. In his college career, Williams scored 1,572 points, made 37.4 percent of his three-point shots and became a team captain.
Kentucky State, which had a 9-18 record last season, is not big. Only one player is taller than 6-foot-4, while 11 are 6-2 or shorter.
Malcolm Smith, a 6-2 sophomore from Cincinnati, averaged 12.5 points and shot with 40-percent accuracy from three-point range last season.
"He's been through the wars," Williams said. "A lot of stuff is going to go as Malcolm goes this year."
Another player Kentucky State is counting upon is Tryston Ford, a 5-9 senior guard from Danville.
"Kind of an under-sized combo guard," Williams said of Ford. "But he can shoot the ball real well. He's real quick. We need those two guys to lead."
Williams had a healthy respect for Kentucky and Calipari.
"He is a real good guy," he said of the UK coach. "One of the best coaches in the business. You watch his guys play and you get to learn from one of the better coaches."
Learning is what Friday's game is about.
"They're going to present a lot of problems for teams on the Division I level," Williams said of the Cats. "So you can imagine the kind of problems they're going to put up against my guys. . . . For me, being our first game, it's going to be a learning experience to see how hard you've got to play and how hard they work at everything they do."
As the Ottawa coach suggested, these exhibition games create life-long memories for the sacrificial lambs.
"It'll be great for these guys because, you know, with playing the No. 1 team in the country, getting ready to play on national TV (ESPNU), these guys maybe never get that chance again.
"It's great for the guys and great for the school."
But is it great for the coach making his debut?
"Well, you know, the coach can sit back and watch," Williams said. "You just want your guys to go out there and play hard."
Son of Cat
The son of a former UK football player, Felix Wilson, is sitting out this season for Kentucky State as a redshirt freshman. The son, also named Felix Wilson, is a 6-1 guard and graduate of Henry Clay High.