Q+A: Derrick Williams
Minnesota’s top Draft pick speaks on the lockout, Under Armour and making the T-Wolves fierce again.
by Bryan Crawford / @_BryanCrawford
Derrick Williams pretty much came from nowhere and made himself into the second overall pick in the NBA Draft this past June. He personally felt he should’ve gone first, and you have to respect a guy who is confident enough to make the audacious claim that he had the ability to replace LeBron James in Cleveland had the Cavaliers selected him.
Perhaps that scared off the Cavs brass, since the wounds from the summer of ’10 were still fresh and hadn’t healed. So as a result, the other DWill fell all the way down to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 2 and will be balling in Minneapolis once the millionaires and billionaires settle their differences.
I had an opportunity to sit down with Williams a week ago at the Under Armour combine in Chicago and Derrick was very gracious with his time, answered all of my questions and didn’t give me any “canned” answers. He gave it to me straight and told me how he felt, and that’s all you can hope for when interviewing professional athletes—especially basketball players.
Here’s hoping a few years under his belt won’t change that and he remains the same open and honest person that he is now…
SLAM: So what is it like for you to be here at the Under Armour Grind Session working out with some of the best high school basketball players in the country?
Derrick Williams: This is my first experience with camps like this when you have top players. Besides the Elite 24, this is my second experience. I never did this in high school. I wasn’t in the Rivals Top 150, so I just want to send them the message that I wasn’t really recruited high, but as long as you’re working hard, staying determined and focused on what you want to become, I think that can really separate you from a lot of people. So I’m just trying to get my story out. I went from not even being in the Top 150 players in the country to the No. 2 pick in the draft, so I think a lot of kids will listen to that, especially today—a couple of kids have already talked to me—so that’s really why I’m here.
SLAM: Your story is unique in that once you got to Arizona things just took off for you. How much of it was work? How much of it was luck? How much of it was attributed to playing at Arizona given their basketball history?
DW: I think whenever you go to a big-time program like Arizona you always have people watching you and I think I was just playing great at the right time. A lot of it was hard work, of course. I didn’t start my first game in college but I started every game after that. So I think a lot of it was just hard work and staying focused and wanting to be one of the best players in college basketball and I ended up being one of those people. Like I said, I think whenever you go to a big-time school you’re going to have people look at you. It’s a good thing we had a lot of wins last year and we were in the spotlight, so I think that had a lot to do with it.
SLAM: Did you ever have that “I think I can be a pro” moment?
DW: Yeah, I’d probably say my freshman year. We played in the Maui Invitational; it was our third or fourth game of the year and we played Wisconsin and at that point they were Top 15 in the country. We lost that game by 4 points, but we showed a lot of heart that game and it wasn’t supposed to even be that close. I had 28 points and that was in my third or fourth college game of my career. So after that I thought I could be pretty good. I actually had the school record in free throw attempts. I shot 21 times at the free throw line and I broke that record last year when I shot 22 free throws in a game. But I think it was that game right there that stood out to me and I thought I could be pretty good one day and I’ve kept working since then.
SLAM: Did coming out this year even with the lockout looming factor into your decision making at all? I’m sure you had people advising you and keeping you up to date on what could potentially happen with the NBA labor situation. So what was that process like in terms of making that decision to enter the draft?
DW: I think there are a couple of people in college, still, who could’ve gone into this draft and been top 10 or top 15, but they decided to stay in school. But for me, I thought it was my best chance of being a top five pick. I have a lot of confidence in myself as well and I could’ve stayed in school this year and been a top five pick. But I felt like this was my best chance. Overall, it was a good experience in college. I had a great time at Arizona. For me, I think it was really about… When I decided to go to Arizona, they weren’t at the top like they had been six or seven years ago before I got there. So I think my job was to help restart that whole program back up and I think I did a pretty good job of that. We’ve got a top five recruiting class coming in this year and next year’s class will be the No. 1 class so I think that’s what it’s really all about. Just helping the recruiting classes get better and better. And for me, being the No. 2 pick, you can’t really get much better than that. Of course Kyrie [Irving] went No. 1 and he’s a great player, but No. 2 is great as well so you can’t get much better.
SLAM: But I read all of the stories and saw the interviews where you felt you should’ve been the No. 1 pick.
DW: [Laughs] Yeah, but everything happens for a reason and I’m looking forward to having a great year in Minnesota.