Before he turned 1 year old, Derrick Williams was shooting a ball at a toy basketball hoop. Probably not long after that he was dunking and swatting a jump shot from a rival toddler into the kitchen.
Or maybe it just seems that way.
The son of Rhoma Moore isn’t all grown up yet — he’s still only 19 years old, a 6-foot-8 sophomore forward with the Arizona Wildcats — but life is coming at him fast.
Williams has blossomed into an All-American player. He’s having a season that belongs among the Arizona greats. He’s a potential top five selection in this year’s NBA Draft, should he decide to leave early.
He has a standing reservation on ESPN’s top plays whenever Arizona has a game. He has highlight dunks, a highlight block and a team ranked in the national Top 10.
With his rapidly increasing exposure and accolades, mom sees the same old Derrick.
“A tall, goofy kid,” Moore said. “Just a lovable, big, oversized, goofy kid.”
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It will be a homecoming this week for Williams, who attended La Mirada (Calif.) High School, southeast of Los Angeles. Arizona plays at USC on Thursday night and at UCLA on Saturday.
Williams estimates he’ll have 100, perhaps 200, friends in attendance at the games. Plus family. Moore figures half of La Mirada might show up. That’s one way to fill USC’s Galen Center.
Of course, mom will be there in the stands, willing her son’s free throws to go in, making mental notes to chide him later about a silly foul or a careless turnover.
“She knows exactly how to play,” Williams said. “She’s a good observer.”
Moore knows what she’s talking about it. A graduate of Mississippi Valley State, she didn’t play basketball in college, but she grew up in a sports-crazy family with four brothers and a sister. At 5-foot-9, she was pretty good competition for Derrick in the front yard … at least for a while.
“He always said, ‘I’m going to take you, Mom,’” said Moore, 48. “But Mom has a little game, too. Probably around middle school, though, he started to get these little moves.”
Those little moves — the ability to drive and shoot with either hand, the spins, the tough jumpers — have all become big-time moves in college.
“I have always known what my son could do, even if a lot of people didn’t realize it,” Moore said. “As he is excelling, the confidence is just boosted. Extremely. Everything he has is just exploding.”
Moore, who says Williams’ father isn’t in the picture — “I’ll leave it at that,” she said — wasn’t intent on turning her son into a basketball star. She introduced a young Derrick — never much of a trouble-maker, she said — to a variety of sports. Football, baseball, soccer.
“When he got to high school, I told him to decide what he wanted to do and go for it,” Moore said. “As time went on and his confidence built, he began to say, ‘I know I can do this. I can really do this.’”
He is averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds. He is shooting 63.1 percent from the field. He is shooting 67.5 percent from 3-point range (27 of 40). He is shooting 75.4 percent from the free throw line.
And he’s doing it all without his ego swelling to the size of McKale Center.
Arizona coach Sean Miller has never taken the credit for that.
“The great gift that Derrick has is that he has a mom who is really special,” Miller said last year. “He has a terrific relationship with her. I don’t know if I have ever met a parent who is more grounded than her. He has people in his life who are about the right things.”
Said Moore: “He’s not a kid who lets things go to his head, like some kids do. He knows he has a job to do.”
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Williams is doing his job so well that he can’t go anywhere around campus, around Tucson, without someone asking him: “Are you coming back next season?”
“I just get used to it,” he said. “Just laugh it off and keep going.”
Williams has given no hint as to what he’ll decide to do after the season — and mom wasn’t biting on any of those questions, either — and that’s the way they want it. Williams said he and his mom have had no discussions about the NBA Draft.
“One day at a time, one minute at a time,” Moore explained. “We can’t control what the future holds. … When he shows he’s ready, we will sit down and discuss the next step.”
The actual next step is the game at USC. Perhaps a regular-season Pac-10 title on Saturday. Then the final homestand against the Oregon schools next week — the last time for Williams in McKale? Then the Pac-10 tournament and the NCAAs.
Then … The Decision.
Not a bad choice to have at 19 years old.
But his emergence into a college basketball superstar — and likely multi-millionaire — isn’t what makes his mother most happy.
“I’m most proud that he’s just being the Derrick I raised and I know,” Moore said.
“It’s so nice when people meet Derrick and then I hear about what a respectful young man he is and what a pleasure he is to be around and speak with. It’s just fantastic to hear.”
She sees no need to change her long-standing motherly advice.
“Just be Derrick,” she tells him. “Just be true to you.”