By any measure, Mountaineer forward Devin Williams is a star in the Big 12. The classic power forward (who reminds old-schoolers of Wes Unseld) has continued to hone his game by adding post moves, improving his mid-range shot and getting into optimum shape to run the floor in West Virginia's fast-paced defense. However, Williams can get even better – and do so quickly – if he can avoid letting frustrations overtake him when things don't go right early in games.
It doesn't happen often, but when it does, the pattern is clear. Williams picks up a foul early in the game that he disagrees with, and it seems to affect his approach. That often leads to another foul, which is followed by a seat on the bench for the rest of the first half. Many times, that second foul is one of frustration, and often an offensive one as he lowers his shoulder or pushes off to get rebounding position on the offensive end. However, it occurs, the end result is bad all the way around. Williams becomes even more frustrated, and isn't able to put it behind him. West Virginia, deprived of his massive contributions in the rebounding and scoring columns, is faced with a deficiency that it must scramble very hard to overcome.
Before going any further, a couple of points need to be made – and emphasized. First, Williams shouldn't be blamed – and isn't being blamed here – for the Oklahoma loss. That game was an example of the process being discussed, but one player can't solely be blamed for any defeat, or credited for any victory. Still, it's instructive to note that even WVU head coach Bob Huggins mentioned his absence as one of the key factors in the game. West Virginia needs Williams on the floor for 25 minutes per game in order to play at maximum efficiency.
Second, Williams can't be expected to change his passionate approach to the game. Like Jonathan Holton or Daxter Miles, Williams' emotions are easy to read, and are vital to the way in which he performs. When he's going about his business, not engaging officials or debating calls, he's a beast that few foes can contain. Were he to play without that exuberance and determination, his effectiveness would be diminished. So, there's no call here for him to play like an automaton. What does need to change, though, is the way in which an early bad call or two has been able to ruin his entire night. The OU game was the most recent example – after picking up a pair of foulsearly – neither of which he agreed with – Williams was taken out of his game almost completely. When he returned in the second half, a charging foul (enhanced mightily by the futbol flop of Sooner defender Ryan Spangler) put him right back in disqualifiation danger, and also affected his play. That call shackled Williams in both mind and body, and despite a couple of scores and boards down the stretch, he was largely minimized in the two-point loss.
There's no doubt that Williams has the ability to clean this up. He's an articulate person who, in interviews, gives honest assessments of his play, as well as that of his team. He's no shrinking violet, and he knows he's good, but he doesn't come across as conceited. He says the right things about team goals and team play, but he also knows that when he doesn't play well, he's hurting those efforts.
Perhaps a different approach from the bench might help – if Williams gets a bad call early, or shows signs of that frustration, a quick trip out to cool down for a minute or two could have a positive effect. Certainly, in some ways, Williams pays the price for his strength in the lane – the emphasis on reducing contact has him under the microscope. It also has to be frustrating for him to watch smaller post players bang away with the same offensive moves he makes and not draw the same calls. That has happened enough this year to plant those seeds of frustration, and while they don't always sprout, when they do, they have a drastic effect on the game.
In the end, though, it's on him. His aspirations for a pro career will also be affected by this – as an NBA rookie, he's not going to get a ton of calls when going against established veterans. He has to develop the ability to let a bad call go, and more importantly, not allow it to change his style of play or lead to more frustration fouls. Doing so will be just as important as all of the work he put in to develop and improve the other aspects of his game.