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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Williams returns to Tucson

Colin+Darland+%2F+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+Arizona+Wildcats+mens+basketball+team+went+head+to+head+in+its+2011+red+%26+blue+scrimmage+match+from+McKale+Center+in+Tucson%2C+Ariz.+on+Saturday%2C+October+22%2C+2011.+The+red+squad+defeated+the+blue+squad+67+to+54.
Colin Darland
Colin Darland / Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats men’s basketball team went head to head in its 2011 red & blue scrimmage match from McKale Center in Tucson, Ariz. on Saturday, October 22, 2011. The red squad defeated the blue squad 67 to 54.

Entering the Red-Blue Game two years ago, nobody really knew much about Derrick Williams.

Williams was ranked as the fourth-best prospect in head coach Sean Miller’s first recruiting haul by Scout.com, behind Kyryl Natyazhko, Solomon Hill and Kevin Parrom.

Things have changed a little bit.

“Very few players made more improvement or a bigger jump in 24 months than he did,” Miller said.

And boy, did he improve.

In what was supposed to be a time of rebuilding for Arizona basketball following the ugly departure of Hall of Fame head coach Lute Olson, Williams took Tucson by storm.

He won Pac-10 Player of the Year, led the Wildcats to the Pac-10 regular season title and an Elite Eight, and eventually was drafted No. 2 overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves.

Now, his success has come full circle, as Arizona honored Williams this weekend at the Red-Blue game by retiring his number and inducting him into the Ring of Honor alongside former Wildcat greats like Steve Kerr and Sean Elliott.

With other former Wildcats like Jason Terry and Andre Iguodala in attendance to see Williams receive this honor, it was a great feeling for him.

“It’s just amazing … with all those people up there,” Williams said. “All these guys coming back JT (Terry) and Andre and all these guys, it just makes the atmosphere that much better.”

The atmosphere he described at the McKale Center brought out a nostalgia that felt a little strange considering just a few months ago he was suiting up for Arizona himself.

“It brought back a lot (of memories). I was only here for two years but it seems like yesterday with the Washington game, the white-out game we had on ESPN, the Duke game and all the games we’ve had,” Williams said. “The fans are great. That’s what makes this place so special is the fans.”

For Miller, it was a little strange seeing Williams sitting on the bench as a spectator, but he thinks that his former star player made the right decision.

Miller said describing his feelings about seeing Williams was “bittersweet.”

“We are really proud of Derrick and I’m just really glad he was able to be here today. Every coach likes to have a guy like him back, but it was the right decision for Derrick,” Miller said. “Derrick’s performance is why he left and he made a great decision.”

The question of whether or not Williams’ talents translate to the next level remains unanswered. At the moment, the NBA is still in a lockout wihout an end date. It could be a while before Williams finally suits up alongside Kevin Love for the Timberwolves, but while he waits he is remaining prepared.

“I’m just working out every day and just trying to stay ready with this lockout. You never know when it can start it could be tomorrow and the season starts up,” Williams said. “And for me, especially my rookie season, I want to play my first game I’m looking forward to it, with all my family coming out and being there at the game.”

Despite the big hole he left inside the paint, Williams is expecting big things from his former team this year.

“I think this year’s team is really good,” Williams said. “I hope they do a lot better than we did last season. I want them to win it all.”

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