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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Having D-Will to win

Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alan Walsh
Alan Walsh/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona forward Derrick Williams may not have the same national buzz as Kentucky’s John Wall or Kansas’ Xavier Henry, but the breakout freshman has proven to be equally as important to the Arizona basketball team.

Williams has sent shock waves through the Pacific 10 Conference with his thunderous dunks and effectiveness in the paint, making him the focus on the opposing coaches’ film sessions.

The freshman, only a three-star recruit coming out of high school, has turned out to be the steal of the 2009 freshman class. Williams is leading the team with 15.6 points and 7.1 rebounds per contest, making him an early favorite to win the Pac-10 Freshman of the Year.

He’s posted three consecutive 20-point games, two of which resulted in Pac-10 road wins for Arizona.

His knack for scoring in the paint and getting to the foul line has been a major plus for the Wildcats, especially as UA head coach Sean Miller didn’t expect Williams to be such a major contributor this early in his collegiate career.

“”Where we would be without him, I can’t even begin to imagine,”” Miller said. “”Right before we went to (Hawaii) Derrick wasn’t a starter. He was someone we felt really good about, his talent you can see in practice, and at that point he hadn’t put it all together.

“”Eight days later he shot 21 free throws against Wisconsin,”” Miller added. “”The game just comes easy to him and he has really good body for a freshman.””

Since the 25-point performance against Wisconsin in November, the forward has proven his worth to the Wildcats and shocked even himself with his first season.

“”It has surprised me a little bit; I didn’t think I was going to put up 15 and 20 points,”” Williams said. “”I just thought I would come in and be a role player.””

Though Williams has developed into Arizona’s lone inside threat, the post is foreign territory to the forward, who has guarded other team’s center in most games this season.

“”I was more on the perimeter in high school, it was our offense that allowed me to do that,”” he said. “”When I first got here I wasn’t post-oriented, I didn’t know all the post moves.

“”In high school I shot around three to four 3-pointers a game,”” he added. “”I just been going through the basics every day, learning from Kyryl (Natyazhko) and Alex (Jacobson), taking what they know and expanding my (inside) game.””

Considering Williams has rarely taken shots from the outside, it’s hard to believe that he can be just as efficient from the perimeter. But La Mirada High School basketball coach Larry Kaupang, who coached Williams in high school for three years, believes when Williams gets a chance to showcase his perimeter game, he will impress.

“”That’s the part of his game that I don’t think everybody has seen,”” Kaupang said. “”He’s phenomenal from the wing position. Even though he’s big he has a good first step and he has a great jump shot, he just hasn’t had a chance to show that part of his game yet.

“”When everyone sees him play outside a little bit more,”” he added, “”everyone will see something really special.””

The idea of Williams flourishing on the perimeter has to have opposing Pac-10 coaches scratching their heads. Williams has caught many by surprise but not Kaupang.

Kaupang recalls a game against the No. 2 high school team in the country — Artesia High School — a team that featured highly touted Mississippi State freshman Renardo Sidney and current Oklahoma City Thunder rookie James Harden. La Mirada beat the team with the featured stars, with Williams having an impact on the game as just a sophomore.

“”He was only about 6-1 or 6-2 as a freshman but between his freshman and sophomore year he kind of grew up quickly,”” Kaupang said of Williams’ progress in high school. “”I knew he was going to be really good by the time he was a sophomore, but I didn’t think he would be this good.””

Kaupang joked that recruiting experts have always been wrong about Williams.

“”It’s funny because one of the recruiting magazines said he had no hops,”” he said. “”We used to tease him about it, telling him he couldn’t jump, knowing that the guy was wrong. It was funny that someone can put a label on you and it sticks even though it’s not true.””

The majority of recruiters were wrong, and Williams has been one of the Wildcats’ most valuable players despite having a long way to go in his development.

“”When you think about what he’s done as such a young player, it’s very promising to think about what he can become,”” Miller said.

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