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‘KJ’ Williams hailed as next-level basketball player

NATCHEZ — When Kennard Williams Jr. was 3-years-old, he picked up an orange  basketball and started dribbling it inside his family’s house.

That’s when Williams, known as “KJ” to family and friends, said he first wanted to pursue basketball.

KJ grandfather, Dan Williams, taught him how to play.

“I started dribbling and all of a sudden I got addicted to it,” KJ said. “My grandfather set up cones and taught me how to dribble with both my hands.”

At 6-to-7 years old, KJ and his grandfather traveled to watch the New Orleans Pelicans. KJ said he remembers getting a New Orleans blue Pelicans basketball pillowcase from a game he attended.

Basketball isn’t the only sport KJ plays, though. KJ also plays football and baseball, but KJ said basketball is his favorite sport.

“Because shooting and dribbling is the best thing about it,” KJ said.

In January, KJ, now 8, joined Clutch Sports Louisiana Kings, a first-year travel basketball team in the Miss-Lou. On March 23-24, KJ and his teammates played in a Regional tournament in Jackson called the Mississippi Madness tournament.

“That was my first basketball tournament out of town,” said KJ, of Natchez and who attends Adams County Christian School. “I was really excited.”

The tournament 150 teams but only four teams were in the second- and third-grade age group. The Kings played on 10-foot goals and had full-court press, meaning they had to go up-and-down the court.

Jamie Tyson, coach of the Kings, said KJ carried the team most of the time.

“At that level, kids aren’t used to ball handling full-court against other kids,” Tyson said. “He could pretty much bring it up on anybody guarding him. It didn’t matter. He’s next level.”

Tyson said he didn’t know what to expect at the tournament. It was the first tournament the Kings had ever attended.

“It just was an experience for the kids mainly,” Tyson said. “I wanted the kids to be able to travel out of town, be in a hotel and swim in the hotel pool.”

In tournament play on March 23, the Kings went 2-1. Three of the games were decided by 1 point. On Sunday, they played through four-team brackets and faced the Alabama Titans in the championship game. The Kings would beat the Titans and win the tournament. They earned a berth to the National Championships in Birmingham, Alabama. Tyson said it was unexpected to win the tournament in the first year of the program.

“I felt excited because we won medals,” KJ said. “My coach got a big silver basketball for winning the tournament.”

Four months later in July, KJ and Dan drove to Houston, Texas, for the Houston Rockets Camp. At this camp, KJ would meet Jherrod Stiggers, a coach at Louis Middle School in Humble, Texas. In the first game KJ played, Stiggers and the rest of the coaches were amazed.

“KJ was passing, dribbling and doing moves that we didn’t teach,” Stiggers said. “We were like, ‘Where did this kid learn this stuff? What grade is he actually in?’ We talked with his grandfather and he said, ‘KJ is actually in third grade?’ We were like, ‘What? Really, he’s in the third grade?’”

In one of the games, KJ made five, three-pointers in one game. Once Stiggers learned KJ wasn’t from Houston, he said he was shocked.

“I was like, ‘He came all the way to Houston to come to the Rockets camp,’” Stiggers said. “And he showed up all the kids, even kids that were older. It was an amazing experience watching KJ.”

After the first camp, Williams was awarded the “Best Ball Handler” and was invited to the second camp in Aug. 5-9. During the second camp, Stigger was able to critique Williams’ playing. On a scoresheet, there was a rating scale from 1-5, with No. 1 being “Rookie” and No. 5 being “MVP.”  Williams received 3s through 5s. Stiggers said if he could have given Williams above a “MVP” rating, he would have.

After that camp was finished, KJ was awarded the All-Star Combine MVP. Once Tyson heard from Williams of KJ winning all of these awards, Tyson said it proves to him KJ is better than the kids nationally.

“I can’t see as many second graders or third graders in the United States, being that much better,” Tyson said. “The only thing is that he’s not very tall. But his ball handling and basketball IQ, he’s just next level.”

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