Here's a stat line for you from last Saturday's game against the Milwaukee Bucks: 27 points on 9-16 shooting, 3-6 three point arc, 6-6 from the charity stripe, 15 assists and 5 steals. Last night the Utah Jazz beat the LA Clippers 112-90 with Williams putting up 16 points and seven assists on 8-17 shooting. Remember, Illini fans, how bad you all wanted Peoria, Illinois native Shaun Livingston? Here's what PG Livingston's numbers showed last night against Utah: played 22 minutes, 0-4 from the field, 1 rebound, 3 assists and 0 points and he doesn't start. Remember Bracey Wright, the 6-3 McDonald's AA from Texas who played on the same high school basketball team as Williams? He was drafted in the 2nd round, the 47th pick by the Timberwolves in 2005, and never sees the court.
Rankings do matter, please don't get me wrong, but good coaches see talent when others don't, and great coaches find that talent and make them into stars. For most Illini fans it's a culture shock to not see Illinois ranked this season, mainly because of the loss of seniors Dee Brown and James Augustine. But if you haven't seen this year's Illini, you may want to do so. Head Coach Bruce Weber will not "toot" his own horn but this year's team will surprise a lot of people. Most fans look at the early games as cream puffs but coaches don't; just ask the Boston College faithful how they felt after their recent upset loss to Vermont.
The next star that appears to have a chance to become another player Weber puts in the league could be sharp-shooting guard Jamar Smith. Only a sophomore, Smith has already learned Weber's motion offense and appears to be on schedule for a great year. However his recent high ankle sprain may set him back temporarily. In an interview that I had with Smith earlier, he knew why he wanted to play for Illinois. "First, it's a great school to get a degree from. Coach Weber is a great coach and I know if I want a chance at the next level, he will be the coach to get me there," said Smith.
This morning I spoke with Denise Smith, the mother of Deron Williams, and she (like most basketball fans) loves to see Deron do so well. Denise was about to call Deron about last night's game, which they do on a regular basis. Williams doesn't forget his friends, according to Smith. Deron tells her all the time how cool it would be to be on the same NBA team with his former teammates Dee and Luther. During their last visit to Champaign back in October, they all said they are still very close and talk to each other all the time.
Don't worry right now, Illini fans. Sure you're missing senior guard Rich McBride and now Smith, but I can assure you of this - once the Illini are healthy again you will see Weber work his magic and keep the Illini on top.