When you talk to Derrick Williams, it's clear he's understands where's he come from as well as where he's going. He came to Arizona as a four-star recruit, ranked as the 32nd power forward and the 95th player overall according to Scout.com, and was the final piece of the heralded class of the 2009 that put UA basketball back on the map.
Upon arrival, all of the buzz surrounded Kyryl Natyazhko for his size and skill set and Lamont Jones for his strength and attitude, but next to no one was talking about Williams as a player that would be a stand out from the get go.
However, flying under the radar has been something that has served to drive the Pac-10 player of the year to improve and take his games to new levels.
"It's pretty crazy, I think, coming from La Mirada," Williams said. "Two years ago, I was nowhere near being drafted, or even getting a DI scholarship. But I think that's what made me work so much harder, competing every day and trying to prove people wrong."
Fast forward to 2011, and Williams is the face of the program, the best player in the Pac-10, and is now just a few months away from signing a big-time contract with a NBA team. He's one of the most decorated and celebrated players in the history of the program, and his importance to the team and the community cannot be stated enough.
Aside from the experience of an Elite Eight appearance, a Pac-10 championship, and one of the most memorable years that a player could possibly have, Williams still believes he's the same kid from La Mirada High School that signed with the Wildcats only after it became absolutely necessary to leave USC, just with a little more life experience under his belt.
"I don't think I've changed at all," Williams said. "I am the same person I was when I did my first interview when I got here. I've matured a lot since I've been here. Just being on my own, starting to have my own responsibilities, what I have to do, whether it's at school or on the basketball court, I think I have matured a lot."
His 1227 points rank as the most scored during the first two years of an Arizona career by any player. Along with Mike Bibby, he was only the fifth player in the history of the Pac-10 to earn Freshman of the Year honors as well as Player of the Year honors in consecutive seasons.
As a sophomore, he was awarded nine All-American accolades, was a finalist for the Oscar Robertson and John R. Wooden Award, and was the USBWA District IX Player of the Year. However, if you ask Williams, none of those honors mean as much as what his team was able to accomplish.
"It's not about the individual awards," Williams said. "I'll trade every single one for a national championship. Being First-Team All-American, second team, Pac-10 Freshman of the Year, it's all great, but I think the highlight of my career here was the Pac-10 title, and getting it for the first time in six years.
And all of the support of the fans, especially for Jamelle Horne's last season. Just staying there and congratulating us, especially when we ran through the crowd. I think that was one of the best moments, and the white-out game too. That was a pretty great feeling. I'm glad we won that game, and the way we won it, was really what topped it off." .
Fans will surely always remember him for his emphatic jams, like the one he had against UConn in the Elite Eight over Roscoe Smith and Charles Okwandu. Williams' clutch blocks to seal victories over Washington and Memphis. With all of the big shots and clutch plays, he's not likely to be forgotten anytime soon.
But perhaps most importantly of all, Arizona fans will always remember Derrick Williams as one of their favorites. Along with Kerr, Elliott, Bibby, Simon, and Gardner, he'll go down as one of the highly revered and respected players to ever put on the uniform.
For Williams, as well as the Arizona faithful, it's just another facet on an incredible, unbelievable, and heroic rise to super stardom and into the hearts of Arizona fans young and old.
"It makes me feel great," Williams said. "To be with those people, my name with Kerr and (Gilbert) Arenas and all the people that played here. It's a great feeling. I don't think anyone thought I would be this good at this point in time.
"I'll probably go down as one of the top five people like, I think. I think that's what people like about me the most, my personality. I don't turn down pictures, autographs. I don't do any of that. That's really it."
But that is all in the past, and after his decision, Williams will never have a chance to improve on his career marks of 17.8 points and 7.7 rebounds per game. He's history, the past, gone. And now that he is no longer n Arizona Wildcat, the man everyone calls "D-Will" knows his life is about to change forever.
"When you have a chance to make a couple million dollars, it's a great feeling," Williams said. "My life is going to change, just like everybody else's would if they had that much money."
With a big pay day on the way, Williams will start by repaying those closest to him for everything they've done to put him in that position.
"I've been thinking about that for a while," Williams said. "I'd probably say a car. My mom doesn't want to move, so I'd probably just fix up the house. Whatever she wants, she can have in it. I'll buy her a car if she wants. I owe her a lot. Money doesn't bring happiness, but I'd touch a few things up."
If you had told Derrick Williams as a 195-pound freshman that he'd go on to rack up the individual awards that he has after just two years, I'd imagine he'd swat that idea out of the gym, just like he did to the Darnell Gant shot at the end of regulation against Washington.
But perhaps an even more ludicrous proposition would be that Arizona basketball would be in the state it is in today, thanks in large part to Williams.
With the NBA on the horizon, and Tucson in his rear view mirror, it's time to give Derrick Williams one of his own famed salutes, and wish him well on his quest for a career in the NBA; signaling both thanks, as well as respect for the person and player he is and has become.
After all, with everything he's given to Arizona, it's the least everyone can do.
Williams leaving impressive legacy
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