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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Derrick Williams: Nearly a Tiger


As the Arizona men’s basketball team faces Memphis to tip off its first NCAA Tournament under Sean Miller, underneath the Josh Pastner storyline of what once was lies the Derrick Williams tale of what could have been.

That’s because Pastner, the former Wildcat assistant coach and player, went hard after Williams following the All-American Arizona forward’s decommitment from USC.

Not only did he pursue Williams, but Pastner nearly got him.

“”Honestly, I was really, really close,”” Williams said. “”I was going to commit on my visit.””

But Williams, who Miller regularly praises for his humble nature, wasn’t going to disrespect Miller, who had been hard after the forward out of La Mirada High School in California. With only two weeks to make a decision after being released from his commitment to the Trojans, it was down to Arizona and Memphis.

Despite the impression that Memphis made on him, which included the draw of playing in an NBA arena — the Memphis Grizzlies share the FexEx Forum with the university and draw more fans — Williams wanted to honor Miller’s efforts.

“”Coach Miller was recruiting me really hard,”” Williams said. “”I wanted to respect that.””

As much as he wanted to call himself a Tiger, Williams didn’t commit at Memphis. Visiting the Tigers first, Pastner thought the forward was his to lose. But as the former Arizona coach knew, getting a commitment was necessary then and there.

To see Williams visit Tucson afterward was a huge risk.

“”When he left he even had our Memphis background on his phone,”” Pastner said on Selection Sunday. “”We thought we were going to get him.

“”But I said, ‘We have to get him committed before he gets back on the plane going west, back to Tucson.’ You can’t let him get to campus at Arizona. By golly, the guy went back there and changed his screensaver to Arizona.””

It’s shown in both programs that Miller and Pastner have a recruiting savvy and confidence that’s allowed them to pull in players of Williams’ caliber. Miller shrugged at the notion that Memphis had the NBA arena and a college basketball town’s atmosphere.

Tucson has it, too, and Miller was just as confident as Pastner in grabbing a verbal from the forward.

“”One of his greatest strengths is he’s a humble kid,”” Miller said. “”Wherever he visits he’s going to be impressed.””

In the end, Williams couldn’t really say what pulled him to Arizona over Memphis. After all, both Miller and Pastner showed the unheralded three-star recruit more than most other head coaches, and Williams denied that it was simply the proximity to his home in California.

Pastner admitted Sunday that he voted for Williams as the National Player of the Year this season.

“”I respect him a lot for noticing my talent,”” Williams said.

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