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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Stepping his way to the top

Mike+Christy+%2F+Arizona+Daily+Wildcat%0A%0AThe+Arizona+Wildcats+took+on+the+Texas+Longhorns+during+third-round+action+of+the+2011+NCAA+Basketball+Championships+Sunday%2C+March+20%2C+in+the+BOK+Center+in+Tulsa%2C+Okla.+The+Wildcats+held+off+a+Longhorn+charge+to+advance+70-69.
Mike Christy
Mike Christy / Arizona Daily Wildcat The Arizona Wildcats took on the Texas Longhorns during third-round action of the 2011 NCAA Basketball Championships Sunday, March 20, in the BOK Center in Tulsa, Okla. The Wildcats held off a Longhorn charge to advance 70-69.

The first conversation I had with Derrick Williams wasn’t about NBA aspirations, wasn’t about his upcoming freshman season and really wasn’t about him.

Word had it that first-year head coach Sean Miller was using a painful disciplinary tactic on his players — show up to practice late or make a mistake, and get a workout on the StairMaster.

So in late 2009 during Arizona’s first media day, I thought I’d write a feature story on it. I figured asking a player that was not surrounded by the other reporters and didn’t have anything better to talk about was a good plan of attack.

Williams happened to be that guy.

“”Can you tell me a little about the stair-stepper machine?”” I asked.

“”The StairMaster, that’s what it’s really called,”” he corrected me. “”That happens when you’re late to a practice, late to workouts. A whole hour on level 15. You don’t want that to happen to you.””

It hurt. That was pretty much the gist of it. So much for a fun feature.

“”That’s all I had,”” I said. “”Thanks.””

Little did I, or anyone else there for that matter, know that the supposedly raw and unheralded big man, not even a year and a half later, would be considered a top-5 NBA draft pick.

My StairMaster story didn’t ever pan out.

Williams did. The workout machine became symbolic of how quickly he’s climbed the steps from unknown to stardom. This is how a kid from La Mirada High School went from a late bloomer into the “”Superman”” who took the Wildcats’ to the Sweet 16 in year two of the Miller era.

Badgering Wisconsin

Then a freshman, Williams started behind Kyryl Natyazhko in his first game at Arizona, jumped to the starting line-up in the second, then bashed the Wisconsin Badgers for 25 points and eight rebounds in his coming-out party on Nov. 23, 2009, setting a school record of 21 free throw attempts.

Revival in Pullman

Following a loss at Washington on Jan. 20, where Arizona fell apart in the final minutes, Williams declared that he wouldn’t let his team quit down the stretch ever again. He backed that up by scoring 17 points and pulling down a career-high 19 rebounds as the Wildcats rebounded against Washington State two days later.

No he Gant

Taking the pain of the first Washington loss into a home game against the Huskies on Feb. 19, the sophomore swatted Darnell Gant’s hook shot into the stands to seal the victory with 0.3 seconds on the clock and the Wildcats leading 87-86, giving them the win and the season’s defining play.

Withering Wesley

After dropping 22 points and 10 rebounds, Williams found his team up 77-75 and a hectic missed free throw gave Memphis’ Wesley Witherspoon an offensive rebound. On his put-back attempt, Williams again blocked a potential game-winner to help Arizona to victory on March 18.

Tulsa triple

By the time only nine seconds remained in the game, Williams had flown toward the basket off a pick-and-roll with guard Kyle Fogg, receiving the pass before a foul, finish and made free throw for a three-point play that gave Arizona a go-ahead hoop for the 70-69 victory on March 20 agaisnt Texas.

— Kevin Zimmerman is a journalism senior. He can be reached at sports@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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