London Lightning sign tough Kirk Williams Jr., who promises he’s ‘calmed down’

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Nothing should ever come as a surprise to those who follow the National Basketball League of Canada.

The London Lightning proved that again when they officially announced the signing of veteran forward Kirk Williams Jr. Wednesday.

Lightning fans have been used to booing Captain Kirk, as he’s known, over the years, so that it will make for an interesting dynamic.

The swing forward played last year for the Niagara River Lions. He will rejoin former coach Keith Vassell who is now the head coach of the Lightning.

He’s a high-energy player with a reputation for volatility and has been suspended several times by the NBL.

Williams, 31, isn’t shy about addressing his reputation.

“Not everybody likes me. I do have a bad reputation and that kind of precedes me,” he said. “I don’t like it, but I don’t know how some people could think that I’m just some horrible person.

“I grew up in New York. I grew up on the street-ball circuit. There’s not much that you can say to a player and it’s going to get violent. I try not to do the violent thing, but I’ve calmed down a lot since my first year. I don’t see it as a problem. I never actually started anything that I got into; I finished it. You feel me?

“Everyone’s got that thing about me that I’m a violent kid. I don’t let that bother me because in between those lines I’m one of the best teammates anybody can have.”

Williams said as he’s grown older his temperament has changed.

“It all came because of my kids,” he said. “After I had my first kid, it was like, ‘Dang, you can’t be out here putting your hands on people in front of your children.’ At the end of the day, my kids, my wife, my family really humbled me.”

Williams started in the NBL in 2012 with the Oshawa Power and has since played with the Mississauga Power and Windsor Express, winning a championship with the Express. He was the 2015 NBL final most valuable player for the Express.

Williams played for former Lightning coach Kyle Julius when he was with the Power.

Williams can be an effective player. He has played 156 regular-season games in the NBL, averaging 16 points a game and seven rebounds. He’s played 30 playoff games in his NBL career, averaging 13 points a game.

The Lightning are getting someone who knows how to play.

“Coming to London is a little odd, but they got a new coach and I had the chance to bond with him last year,” Williams said. “He really liked me and when he got the job it was not that much of a choice. I already knew Ryan (Anderson) from when we won a championship. Ryan, he made it sound like an easy transition. I can fit in anywhere.”

Williams says one thing he won’t do is take “s—t from anybody.”

He says he’s seen players “knocked out” in this league and nothing happens until it comes to him.

“I got people in this league that just don’t like me. You feel me?” he said. “People are always talking bad about me. I was actually supposed to come to London the year before I went to Niagara, but me and that coach (Julius) didn’t see eye to eye. I couldn’t make that move. This year I talked to Vito (team owner Vito Frijia) and we came to the conclusion that I would definitely be a great fit for the team.”

Frijia said Vassell really wanted Williams on the team.

“I think Kirk has settled down,” Frijia said. “We talked and he’s married now and has kids. He wants to play and wants to play for a team that plays hard.”

There’s no debate about Williams’ competitive nature.

“There’s one thing you’ll never see me not do and that’s compete,” Williams said. “I don’t get intimidated. Like I told the coach, . . . ‘Hey, last year you got your feet wet; this year, let’s make it known . . . He’s ecstatic and I’m actually more happy for him than I am for myself because I’m going to compete regardless of where I’m going to go. I’m just happy I won’t have to go far from my family.”

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