Much is expected from the son of Illinois great Frank Williams, and Peoria Manual guard Da’Monte Williams is well on his way to answering the call.
His dad was part of a tide-turning class for the Illini with a collection of in-state talent. The program is hoping for similar things with Da’Monte and other high-level 2017 prospects across the state. Illinois head coach John Groce extended an offer to the legacy recruit in April, and Williams has been a top priority ever since.
Williams took an unofficial visit to Champaign in June, and the Illini plan to bring him back in the near future. The fan base already is on the edge of their seats to see if he’ll follow his father's footsteps to the state school.
What We Saw In July
Da’Monte Williams had a big summer with the Mac Irvin Fire 16U squad and continued to climb the ladder with his progression. He was a different player than people saw during the high school season -- it wasn’t even close. At 6-foot-2, Da’Monte brings good size and athleticism to the point guard position. He sees the floor really well and has an ability to score off the bounce and beyond the arc.
Peoria Manual assistant coach David Williams has seen more of Da’Monte than anyone since he serves as the rising junior's individual instructor too. He was impressed with what he saw on the AAU circuit.
“Offensively, he was really good with the ball in his hands," David Williams said. "Ran a lot of high pick ‘n roll stuff with Christian (Negron). He made good decisions, wasn’t turning it over. Defensively, he was getting his hands on a lot of balls. I talked to a lot of people who said, ‘Man, he’s really turned a corner’. He’s getting there and still has a long way to go. But he’ll be there by the time it’s all said and done.”
Da’Monte Williams started strong during the first July evaluation period at the Peach Jam. He posted 21 points in a highly-competitive matchup against elite 2019 point guard Tyger Campbell. When crunch time came, Williams turned it on by hitting contested three-pointers and taking it coast-to-coast on drives to the hole.
But like many young prospects, he also showed areas of his game that need to improve.
“In July, it just seemed like he leveled off,” David Williams said. “He still has a lot of work to do. He’ll be the first one to tell you that. I think he’s on the right road and he’s going to get there.”
Da’Monte Williams is in a good spot with his athleticism heading into his junior season. But he could use more quickness in his first step and another gear to his motor. He also needs to focus on staying aggressive at all times. That is what can take his game to the next level.
“I think being in attack mode from the start of the game," David Williams said. "When he’s in attack mode, he’s hard to guard. When he’s settling for three-pointers, he’s a lot easier to guard. But when he attacks and gets going to the basket, he is a tough matchup. He’s long, he’s athletic, he finishes great at the basket and he has great size for a guard. Not many kids can shoot the three consistently and take it to the basket and dunk it. He can do both. And when he starts getting into attack mode all the time is when he’ll really turn that corner.”
How He’d Fit In Illini Class
Da’Monte Williams has the potential to be a cornerstone of the 2017 class for Groce and the Illini. He would provide instant firepower to the backcourt and would also add flexibility to the roster with his ability to play the point or make plays off the ball. He is currently No. 32 in the 2017 class per the Scout rankings, which would be the highest-ranked get during Groce’s tenure.
Like Belleville Althoff wing Jordan Goodwin, Williams figures to be a likely candidate to pull the trigger earlier than most. There has already been talk of Goodwin jumping on board, and Williams could soon follow if the dominoes line up just right. That would be a huge start for the program in what may be the most crucial aspect of the staff’s stability.
“If they get half of who’ve they’ve offered, that’s going to be big," David Williams said. "I’m a big fan of Jordan Goodwin. He’s a strong kid and I like him a lot. I like Jeremiah Tilmon a lot. I’ve talked to Goodwin and it seems like Illinois is No. 1 on his list. I know that Da’Monte likes him and we talk about those guys a lot. If you get him, Tilmon and Da’Monte, that’s a pretty good trio.”
Don’t blame Illini fans for starting to dream. If it all turns into reality, anyone will tell you that it will be something special.
“The 2017 class is huge in Illinois," David Williams said. "I can’t remember there being a better class in a long time as far as Illinois is concerned and how they’ve recruited it. If they get three or four of those big pieces, I think it will be a huge class for Illinois. I can see them doing that and turning this thing around.”
Where Do The Illini Stand
Da’Monte Williams isn’t one to dive into the hype of his recruitment. He has kept things rather low-key amongst many assumptions that he’ll go to Illinois just because of his dad. That connection will never go away, and Williams talked about his dad’s thoughts on the Illini pursuing him.
“He’s happy for me. He thinks it’ll be sweet if I choose to go there,” Da'Monte Williams said earlier this summer.
But ultimately, Da’Monte wants to earn his own name, develop a relationship with the staff and make the best decision for him. That being said, the Illini have been at the head of the race in terms of what they are selling and how they are coming after him.
“John (Groce), Dustin (Ford), Jamall (Walker) and Paris (Parham) have been great," David Williams said. "They were the only program that I’m aware of that was at every one of his summer games this year. They were front row at every one of his games, and he realizes that. It’s a big deal and a big credit to them. I think Illinois has done an unbelievable job in recruiting him.”
The Illini are doing all the right things in their recruitment of Da’Monte Williams. As with others, the big question will be how the pieces fit in accordance. Da’Monte is a combo guard who wants to play point at the next level. But Illinois is currently looking for an answer at the position in the 2016 class. They are after other lead/combo guard options in 2017 as well, such as Alonzo Verge, Jordan Poole, Paul Scruggs and Nojel Eastern.
“They’re going to have to find the right way to prioritize those guys," David Williams said. "It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out at the point guard position. Does Charlie Moore go there? That’s going to be a big impact on guys too. Who is going to be the first one in 2017 to get on board and who are they going to bring with them?”
David Williams stated that Da’Monte Williams is best suited to be a pure point guard in college and beyond. But he added that if the Illini bring Moore or another point guard into the fold, that won’t take them out of the mix for Da’Monte. It’s never a bad thing to have more than one natural ball-handler in the backcourt.
“I think the point guard is the most important position on the floor," David Williams said. "I think Groce is in agreement with that. It’s going to be tough but there are some situations where you can get a couple combos and make it work. Can Da’Monte play off the ball? Yes, he can. Can Charlie Moore play off the ball? Yes, he could. I think you could do point guard by committee. If you have multiple guys who can handle the ball and shoot it, it makes it a really tough matchup for people.”
Sizing Up The Competition
Illinois is still the most recent offer for Da’Monte Williams, while Bradley and UIC have also offered. But the interest picked up big time over the summer. David Williams said he has received calls from Arizona, Florida, Iowa State, South Carolina and others. Kansas has shown some interest, and Purdue took a liking to Da’Monte after his showing at team camp in West Lafayette.
Even as a top-50 prospect in the class, his recruitment has yet to blow up. But as long as the program remains stable and the opportunity is there, the Illini figure to be in the driver’s seat.