Rick Barnes’ Frustration with Arkansas Game Boils Over into Rules Reform

Rick Barnes, Jaylin Williams, Arkansas basketball, Tennessee basketball
photo credit: Tennessee Athletics / Nick Wenger

Having been part of back-to-back Elite Eight teams, Jaylin Williams’ legacy with Arkansas basketball was already set in stone. A case could be made that his broader impact on the game is still being felt, though.

On Friday, the NCAA Men’s Basketball Rules Committee announced several proposed rules changes for 2023-24 and chief among them was a major tweak to its block/charge rule in an effort to improve player safety and somewhat swing the advantage back to the offense.

The committee has recommended that defenders must be in position to draw a charge when the offensive player plants his foot to jump to take a shot. That is sooner than what’s required by the current rule, which stipulates that the defender must be set before the offensive player goes airborne.

The tweak must be approved by the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel, which will have a virtual meeting June 8, but if it is, the rule would go into effect for next season.

That means the rule comes just two years after Williams, the Razorbacks’ 6-foot-10 big man, drew what is believed to be a single-season school-record 54 charges during the 2021-22 season. That number also led the NCAA.

It’s hard to know exactly how many of those charges would have been changed to blocking fouls on Williams under the new regulation, but it certainly would have made it difficult to rack them up at the rate he did as a sophomore.

Rick Barnes Gets His Way

The NCAA’s press release announcing the proposed rule change says it was in response to “feedback from the membership that too many charges are being called on these types of plays.”

However, it’s hard to ignore the coach currently leading the group as the committee chair: Tennessee basketball coach Rick Barnes.

“Our goal is to try to reduce the number of charges that are called,” Barnes said in a statement. “We want to give more time to the offensive player to adjust to defensive player movement and reduce the hard collisions that are taking place.”

Naturally, all of the charges Jaylin Williams drew while at Arkansas got under the skin of several opposing players and coaches.

That said, none of them complained about it quite as much as Barnes did after the Volunteers’ 58-48 loss to the Razorbacks at Bud Walton Arena. During the hard-fought game, two of his key players — Kennedy Chandler and Santiago Vescovi — were each called for a pair of charges and Tennessee never got into an offensive rhythm.

“I hope I feel different after watching the tape, because I know how I feel right now about it,” Barnes said after the game. “And I hope — I really do hope — I feel different after seeing the film.

A good chunk of his nearly 8-minute postgame press conference focused on his team’s offensive fouls and the lack of flow they caused, which led to the Volunteers shooting just 27.1% from the field.

In fact, at one point, he seemed to advocate for the rule change that is now close to taking effect this coming season.

“You’ve got to protect a guy that leaves his feet, just like from the 3-point line,” Barnes said. “If a guy goes up, you’ve got to give him room to come down. And the same thing has got to be true when you take off. A guy gets up in the air, you can’t slide under him at the very end.”

Barnes added that he knew it was going to be an issue going into the game because by that point of the season, on Feb. 19, Williams already had a reputation as arguably the best charge-taker in the country. He warned his team ahead of time that Arkansas players “step in late” to take charges.

Those kinds of plays were technically already outlawed, as you had to be set before the player was airborne, but now getting established must happen even quicker in the play to draw a charge.

(It’s also worth noting that those calls flipped some in the 2022 rematch in Knoxville and Eric Musselman brought it up in his postgame press conference. “Jaylin Williams has never had so many block calls. Had a lot of charges at our place,” Musselman said. Those fouls limited him to only about 9.5 minutes in the first half and the Volunteers outscored Arkansas by five with him on the bench, in a game they won 78-74.)

Jaylin Williams in the NBA

Considering the physical toll it takes to draw charges and the fact that players are bigger and stronger in the NBA, there was some speculation that Jaylin Williams might have to tone down that aspect of his game when he made the jump to the next level.

After just one year with the Oklahoma City Thunder, though, that hasn’t been the case. As a rookie, Williams was the King of Charges in the NBA.

He led the league with 43 total charges — which was 10 more than the next closest player (Kevin Love). He also had a sizable lead in the per-game category, as his 0.88 charges per game was by far the best mark in the league and the distance between him and No. 2 (Udonis Haslem, 0.57) is roughly equal to the distance between No. 2 and No. 17 (which just so happens to be Isaiah Joe).

The only player to average more charges per 48 minutes than Williams was Haslem at 2.7, but the 42-year-old played only 72 minutes compared to the rookie’s 914 minutes, in which he averaged 2.3 per 48. Among those who played at least 100 minutes, the closest player to Williams was Blake Griffin at 1.3.

Some, like USA Today’s Clemente Almanza, come across as doubtful of Williams’ ability to rack charges at a similar rate going forward. “His charge-taking ability should help make up for his lack of size and rim protection, but that feels a bit more gimmicky than sustainable,” Almanza wrote. “Relying on the referee’s whistle to stop paint buckets feels like playing with fire.”

Regardless, it’s still a critical part of the second-round pick’s game. So, as you can image, he wasn’t particular fond of an idea floated by Zach Harper of The Athletic:

Perhaps it’s just a coincidence that the college rule could be changing and there are calls to ban it in the NBA just as Jaylin Williams is starting to make his mark — or maybe not.


For your viewing pleasure, here’s a compilation of all 54 charges drawn by Jaylin Williams his last year with Arkansas basketball:



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