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Malik Williams talks return to Louisville

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“I’ve played in one tournament game in four years. It just doesn’t sit right.”

COLLEGE BASKETBALL: JAN 02 Louisville at Boston College Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Louisville center Malik Williams met with the media on Tuesday to talk about his decision to return to U of L, the shake-up on the Cardinal staff, and the possibility of Carlik Jones coming back too.

You can find video of the presser here.

(On what went into his decision, when he actually decided, and who he talked to)

I actually decided maybe a week or two ago. Kinda just went into the decision just talking with my old AAU coach, my mom, my brothers, just a lot of people, about the decision I should make. What ultimately came into it was just feeling not ready. When I came into this, my goal was to make it to the next level. Not just make it to the next level, but stick at the next level, then be able to stay there and give myself a long run in the game. Just not feeling prepared yet. I just felt like it was best for me to come back, give it another year. I’m blessed with the opportunity to do, so just try to take advantage of that.

(On why he feels like he let his teammates down even though he couldn’t control a foot injury)

I think it’s the competitive nature. I just feel like going all the way back to the summer, I just felt like, to an extent, I didn’t handle myself how I should have been from the jump. Just kind of taking advantage of everything that was going on. I think I could have been a little bit more locked in on the goal at hand. But like you said, you can’t control an injury. That part of it was just God. That’s that part of the game that nobody knows the answer to. Aas letting my team down, I just feel like being the captain and a leader for four years now, just really needed to be out there with them. They needed the size, I just really wanted to be out there with them. I just feel like I let him down, just not being able to compete with them, and battle with them daily getting better in those practices.

(On how rehab is going, if more surgery is required, and how different this offseason will be for him)

The foot that I had surgery on that put me off for the most of the majority of the season back in November (right foot), that’s doing good. The Duke game, I came down on somebody’s foot, and it was sore for maybe like three or four days, maybe a week. It was sore, but that’s my feeling good. But my ankle, I just had a surgery done on that. It wasn’t too severe with surgery, but on my left ankle, I had to get just a sculpt done. Just go in there and get some shaving done. I’m actually in a boot now, and in a little like splint type thing. As far as that goes, it’s a six week process to get back, so I’m not looking at being worried about next year at all. I’ll actually be good for the summer. But right now, I’m just working on recovering that ankle, while at the same time stretching that bone in the other foot.

(On how difficult the decision to come back was)

It was back and forth, for sure. It was back and forth, it was a tough decision to make. When it ultimately came down to making the decision, it was an easy pick. But just being around college basketball for so long, coming in as a five star recruit that I was, with the mindset that I had after the talks that me and (former head coach Rick) Pitino had, just wanted to come in, get right to work and get out of here to go to that next level. When you go from coming into college wanting to be a future one-and-done, to turning into a fifth year senior, that’s not easy for anyone to cope with. So I think it was just about exploring my options, that’s all that it really was. I never really wanted to leave, I just wanted to really explore my options, and just try to see what would be best for me over the next year for the long run. That’s what made me come up with staying at Louisville.

(On how much his small amount of playing time impacted his decision, and what his talks with Carlik Jones about his decision to leave or come back have been like)

I think it helped a lot. The biggest thing about getting back out there on the floor was - throughout the whole process, I told myself I would get all the way back to 110% before I went back out there, which I ended up - my right foot was at 100%, but still dealing with things that was bothering me in my left ankle, which I didn’t know were so severe to the point of surgery at that point. It was just about getting back out there competing with the guys, trying to make a run for that tournament bid. There’s no regrets there or anything like that, and as far as it affected my decision, it just gave me a sense that I needed another year. I didn’t have that full feel for the game, it had been a while since I actually played - almost a year. I just didn’t have that full feel for the game, and that’s just not how I want to leave my college experience. Going down for the second half at Duke, I just feel like I need - there’s a better story to my college basketball (career). Just want to finish that out the right way.

I’m on my roommate every day. I’d love to have Carlik staying with me for another year, but he has to do what’s best for him. If that’s going and testing the waters and leaving this year, then I’ll always have his back, and he’ll always be my boy. But I’d love to have him back. The talent that he is, I think that we can really make some noise next year.

(On if he hurt his left ankle in the Duke game, or if it was a separate injury altogether)

I think it goes back to Florida State in 2020, when I rolled my ankle landing on Dwayne (Sutton)’s foot. I think that it’s really just building up over time. I did come down on it funny in the Duke game, so it was hurting and it probably looked like that. But that was something that built up over time that was kind of bothering me all the way throughout the process.

(On what was going through his mind when he did re-injure his foot at Duke)

At that point, it was my right foot. It was a very sharp pain that I was feeling. I never thought that it was super hurt again, but I just felt it again, and the doctor told me if I felt anything like that, shut it down. At that point I’m like, I want to try one more time, go back out there and try it again. We have an amazing trainer that we have, Fred Hina, he told me shut it down. Got ice on it right away, and I think that kind of healed it back up. I think going back out there would have been a really bad idea, even though in the moment I was feeling like I wanted to. I never really thought that it was really hurt anymore, I just thought that I had just bruised it again.

(On what advice he got on what he needed to work on, and what he thinks he needs to work on)

I think I just need to work on working. Getting in the lab more, perfecting my craft in all areas, become an overall better player, a better leader. As far as the feedback that I got, it wasn’t as much as my game, but more so what will be best for me for the long run. Trying to get where I want to be. The game part just has to be me. I want to work on my entire game. Shot, ball handling, just every single area I want to get better, and be a much better leader consistently.

(On if he talked to head coach Chris Mack to get his input)

Yeah. Mack is a great coach, it’s just he doesn’t want to have that influence. He wants to be there, and give you his opinion on things, but he doesn’t want to make that call for you. He wants you to make that decision, so that it’s you, and it’s not pressure at any extent.

(On how much not being selected for the NCAA Tournament played a factor to come back, and how much of a driving point it will play during the offseason)

I think that kind of pushed me over the top to making that decision to come back. I’ve played in one tournament game in four years. It just doesn’t sit right. The tournament is the reason that you come to a school like Louisville. That feeling of letting them down, I can only imagine how it feels for a first year guy, just like me to basically make the NIT. Just wanting to be be better for them, and be there for them next year, so that I can make sure that it doesn’t happen again, is all that I’m worried about really.

(On if he is at risk for re-injury to either feet)

The first surgery that I had before my junior year back in 2019, that one had a high recurrence rate, and that’s what did end up happening again. But they say that after you get that second surgery, they go in and they do a little more, as far as like a bone graft and a little bit bigger of a screw. They say that it heals up a lot better that second time. Usually you don’t have to get that surgery, that procedure, a third time. So that’s pretty good as far as that goes. Then my ankle, that was just something that I never really got to taking care of. Not because I didn’t want to or anything like that, we just didn’t really know the severity of it. We got an x-ray, but it didn’t show that. Once we got the scan, is when we saw that I had the ankle spur. I believe that I’ll be good from here on out. It’s just about freak accidents happen. I landed on somebody’s foot one time, rolled my ankle, and I just landed on somebody’s foot in the game. That was my first two times that ever happened. It’s just freak things like that that. I just got to try to be cautious of, but (the doctor) doesn’t say that they’ll think I’ll be injury prone to hurt my feet.

(On if he feels like he’s been hit by some of the worst luck)

I wouldn’t call it luck, because I’ve been blessed. I’ve been playing a game of basketball since 2010 at a high rate. I’ve been blessed. Last year, my junior year, was the first year that I actually had to sit down away from basketball.

(On if he feels like he needs to prove that he can play a full season without getting hurt)

Yeah, no doubt, no doubt. Longevity is part of the game, and nobody wants somebody who’s ‘are they going to be able to play tonight or not?’ I think getting back to myself in that aspect is very important for my play at the next level.

(On where he thinks he can fit in with the roster)

I felt like I fit right in. I feel like the guys respect me, and they’re with me 100%, and they understand what I’m going through. I feel like they always have my back through all of that. Just getting right with Carlik is just - I feel like we have a good chemistry, even though we never really played together, I feel like me and him have a connection that could really be well on the court. As a team in general, I like the guys that we have. The thing that’s always been at Louisville, it’s always been together. Even before we started saying ‘tough, together, unbreakable’, I felt like it was a together group. That’s big for basketball, because you can’t go to war with somebody every single night if you can’t have a regular conversation with him, and ask him about his family and things like that. The connection is the biggest thing for me. Just the pieces that we got is good. That Super Six class is jumping up into their junior year now, it’s time to take a big leap for all of them. I think that they need to play a big part in the leadership that we get, because that class above them, they didn’t have any commits. We won’t have a legit senior this year, so all those guys stepping up as juniors, and taking that leadership role, and now-freshmen that’ll be sophomores taking that leadership role. We got to be a player-led team. It can’t be the coaches always correcting us, we got to be able to get it started.

(On the reaction that two assistant coaches will not be returning, and how he has had to change his one-and-done mindset over time)

The coaches, it didn’t come as a shock. I feel like they’re really good coaches, I don’t think anything upstairs is wrong with it. I think it comes to a point where you gotta try something new, and sometimes that’s just how it is. That’s the sad part of it. Building the connection with those guys over the years, but I think it’s just onto the next step. I think we all knew that the staff wouldn’t stay together, people want to go new places, and people have to try new things. That’s just part of it. Those guys will be missed, I think they’re great coaches I think that’s just that. We just got to get that new piece brought in.

Coming in one and done, I think it’s the expectation for every athlete, as far as when you come to this high of a level, you just feel like you’re that guy. The transition has been bittersweet, because you don’t realize how much you grow in your college days. From my freshman year to now, I’d say I’m a completely different guy. Just that growth that I made. People don’t know how much different it is coming from high school to college basketball, and how difficult it is to succeed at that next level. To make that jump from high school to college in a one year, then go to the NBA, it’s more difficult than people give credit for. But just the growth that I’ve made in these years, it’s just amazing to see. I’ve built family forever here in Louisville, so the connections and everything. It’s great.

(On how him returning will impact the role that Jae’Lyn Withers will have next season)

Me and Jae’Lyn have been connected since he got here. That’s little bro. He comes to me for things, I’m always there to give him advice on whatever he needs to know. He’s a great kid, and he’s a great player. He kind of got put in a bad spot this year, just because of how talented he is and how athletic he is, we needed him to step up and take that five-man role. I think he did a really good job. For it to be his first college year - he’s a freshman as far as basketball goes, so for him to be able to step up and play the five, and stick with a daily, that’s difficult. I’m a player who feels like I should play the four and play on the wing, and things like that. So for somebody like him, who’s really talented at what he does in those other areas, it’s hard for him to switch that role for the team. But that just gives a testament to his character, and how he stuck with it and he didn’t complain about it. Me and him being able to play together, I think it gives the team a new dynamic, because it gives him a chance to actually crash the glass and not have to worry about boxing out ‘ole five as much, and just things like that. think that our chemistry will be great because of the connection we have off the course. I’m really excited to play with Jae’Lyn.

(On how valuable his leadership and knowledge is to the team)

I think it makes it very valuable. We still got Coach Mack and Coach (Mike) Pegues, but those other two (current assistant coaching absences) is like a kind of open void. They’ll understand the system and his scheme, but after me being around three years, I feel like I can even help those guys to an extent - who Mack chooses to bring in. Like helping those guys out with things that I see, and things that I already know. I just feel like I can be that that coaches’ player.