Tucson CitizenTucson Citizen

Secret to Derrick Williams’ success: ‘Just play like you’re underrated’

Derrick Williams goes around 7-2 Jordan Bachynski for two of his 31 points vs. ASU last month.
Photo by Chris Morrison-US PRESSWIRE

Arizona Wildcats sophomore forward Derrick Williams says he doesn’t go on-line to see the latest updates on his impressive NBA draft status.

But his teammates do.

“Like (Kyle) Fogg, he says it sometimes. Stuff like, ‘Hey, how’s Top 5 doing today?’” Williams said.

Top five, top 10, lottery pick … if Williams leaves and where he would go in the draft is all part of the background noise to Arizona’s 18-4 season.

All of that will play out in time, but as for the rest of the Wildcats’ season, coach Sean Miller says he doesn’t figure any of that chatter will be a distraction.

“That’s the beauty of Derrick,” Miller said.

“He really doesn’t have a lot of people in his ear. He has a really small circle. He comes from a great family as I’ve mentioned a lot of times …

“Not that other people don’t try (to get in his ear), but you’re not going to be very successful. One of the reasons Derrick has improved the way he has is he has a really small circle and has very few distractions.”

Williams is averaging 19.8 points and 7.6 rebounds per game. He shoots nearly 10 free throws per game, making 74.5 percent. He has hit an astonishing 70.6 percent of his 3-point attempts (24 of 34).

“What makes it even better is that for as good as he is, he’s one of the least cocky persons that you can meet,” said Fogg, a junior guard. “I kind of take it upon to myself to have a big head for him.”

So do his teammates.

When he and Solomon Hill and Max Wiepking were walking to class Tuesday, they first stopped at the bookstore to buy Williams’ new No. 23 Wildcats replica jersey — in white and blue. Williams posted a picture of his teammates posing with him and the jerseys on his Facebook page.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Williams said.

Of course, Williams isn’t immune to all publicity and pats on the back. He says he sometimes hurries home after a game to see if something he did — like the one-handed alley-oop dunk against UCLA last Thursday — made the ESPN highlights. It did. And it was spectacular, as he snatched Kevin Parrom’s errant lob pass before throwing the ball down with his right hand.

“That was probably the worst lob I ever caught,” Williams said with a smile. “We were talking about that yesterday. He tells me, ‘I don’t know how you caught that.’”

Not that he is getting a big head. Mostly, he says he filters out all the extraneous nonsense with a humility that Miller has said he gets from his mother.

“Just going back to even high school or last year, I always tell myself, ‘Just play like you’re underrated,’” Williams said.

“That’s what I always do. I always have something to prove to people. I’m always telling myself there is somebody better than me on the court.”

Williams, who played against USC on Saturday with a wrap on his right hand to protect an injured pinky, missed practice Monday and wasn’t scheduled for much work Tuesday as Miller tries to protect the injury, which is not considered serious or long term.

“He’ll be all-in practicing tomorrow,” Miller said.

Search site | Terms of service