Da'Monte Williams: State tourney 'a learning experience'

Illini commit Da'Monte Williams talks about building from his team's third-place finish and what we he has planned in the coming months.

Peoria Manual guard Da'Monte Williams didn't get to close out his junior year as he hoped, as the Rams had a third-place finish in the 3A state tournament.

But the year as a whole was a valuable learning experience for Williams. It was also one that didn't go without accomplishment.

Williams averaged 15.3 points per game on the season, and he was an Associated Press 3A first-team selection. That sounds like a pretty good year by most standards.

But the bar is raised high for the son of a former Mr. Basketball, Big Ten Player of the Year and first-round NBA Draft pick. Williams has created his own expectations being ranked as a top-50 player in the 2017 class, and being an immensely-hyped Illinois commit.

However, he is far from a finished product. Williams dealt with issues of inconsistency throughout the season, which mostly stemmed from a lack of steady aggressiveness and a streaky outside jumper - shooting below 25 percent from three on the year.

Williams was on his game for the majority of Manual's run to 3A semis, which was the program's first appearance there since 2010. But he struggled mightily in the biggest game on the biggest stage. Manual was upset by Lincoln-Way West 45-41 last Friday with an opportunity to advance to the title game, and Williams finished with just two points on five shot attempts.

It was a forgettable performance, but not a forgettable year. Williams had 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists in an overtime win over St. Joseph in the 3A third-place game.

"It was real important for us to finish out with a win. We don't like losing two games in a row," Williams said. "We tried to win the game for the guys who played their last game in a Manual uniform, and that's what we did."

With their top three scorers returning next year, Manual will be primed for another run to Peoria. Williams said he will use this year's experience as a building block - both from a team and individual standpoint.

"It's a good learning experience. I still have another year," he said. "Now, I know what it takes to get down here and everything that we need to do."

"We can use this moment going into the offseason. We have a good team coming in next year. We'll be working hard to get down here again. Our goal is to get back here and win it all."

Williams took a moment to reflect on his season as a whole. He said there were positives to take with aspects of growth in his game, but he knows the key to upping his game to the next level.

"I feel like it's grown a little bit," Williams said. "Just have to stay in attack mode more."

Now, Williams has a few weeks before the AAU season kicks off next month. He said he will immediately focus on getting stronger.

"Just getting in the weight room. That's a big thing for me," Williams said. "And just working hard throughout the offseason."

The EYBL season will be here soon enough, though. Williams will be the headlining piece for the Mac Irvin Fire, and he'll play alongside Illini target Christian Negron. Williams talked about his expectations for his team on the circuit this spring and summer.

"We look forward to winning a lot of games," he said. "When you play for the Mac Irvin Fire, you expect to make it to Peach Jam."

Williams will square off against St. Louis Eagles products Jordan Goodwin and Jeremiah Tilmon in the Midwest division of the EYBL. While they will be foes this summer, the Illini are pushing to make them all teammates in a blockbuster 2017 class.

Williams and Tilmon have been talking regularly since early last month - leading up to Williams' commitment a few weeks later. The two have formed a nice bond, and they've talked about possibly teaming up in Champaign.

"We're looking to get a good relationship and hopefully go to school together." Williams said last month - nine days before committing to the Illini.

John Groce and his staff have been very active in their pursuit of Tilmon recently. Williams will add to that effort as well.

"I haven't really talked to him a lot recently because I've been getting ready to come down here," Williams said last weekend. "But now that the season is over, I'll be in contact with him."

The next few months - and even the next few weeks - are huge for the future of Illini hoops.

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