by Quinn Peterson
If there was any doubt as to who the fastest-rising NBA prospect was heading into the NCAA Tournament, little was left of it after the nets had been cut down. Several players played well, but few impressed like Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams.
Much the same way it takes a while for West Coast hip-hop to trickle eastward, the same often goes for the word from the left coast in hoops.
“I think we were kind of underrated going into the season,” the 6-8 Pac-10 Player of the Year and Second Team All-American says of his Arizona Wildcats. “We just played hard every game and finally got ranked. We wanted to be a top-10 team, we didn’t just wanna settle for being top-25.”
Thus, it was on the national stage where he made his case, waking up sleepers and converting non-believers by playing like a man possessed. Dropping a career-high 32 points (25 in the first half) against Duke to push his Wildcats to a Sweet 16 victory was his most prolific shining moment. “The first half of the Duke game, that’s probably one of the best halves I’ve ever played,” he says. “I just wanted to put my teammates on my shoulders and carry my team to the win.”
It’s winning that’s helped him—and his team—cement a legacy. “All the awards I got, a lot of that comes from just winning. A lot of people, when they talk about Arizona, they talk about the late ’90s-early 2000s. I just want to be a part of that new era. I think we really did that by winning 30 games and reaching the Elite Eight.”
The Wildcats’ success was largely a product of Williams’ willpower, but he’s quick to humbly acknowledge that it’s been a full team effort. Now, after averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 boards, shooting 59 percent and dominating his peers, Williams has entered the NBA Draft and will look to duplicate his success there.
As a potential No. 1 pick, no one will be snoozing on Williams this time.