Arizona coach Sean Miller said it all season — the Wildcats had no margin of error.
And now we know just how slim that margin really was.
A half inch.
File this one in the “now it can be told” file.
The finger injury that All-American sophomore forward Derrick Williams suffered against UCLA on Jan. 27 was worse than he or the coaches let on at the time — although it became clearer as the injury lingered and he continued to play with his hand wrapped that the official explanation of “sprained right pinky” was a nice bit of sugarcoating.
Williams admitted after the season that the finger was broken, and he said Wednesday at a press conference to talk about his decision to go to the NBA that the injury was thisclose to ending his season.
Almost no Pac-10 Player of the Year honors. No last-second block against Washington. No magical couple of weeks in the NCAA Tournament.
“If I cracked it a half inch lower, I would have had to have surgery,” he said. “If I had to sit out, I would sit out, but I wasn’t going to sit out if there was no reason. I just wanted to continue to play with my teammates for as long as I could.”
Play on, he did.
The injury occurred on a Thursday night, and he originally planned to sit out for the Saturday contest against USC. He changed his mind the morning of the game.
“I told Coach I was going to play no matter what. I wasn’t going to sit out,” Williams said. “Obviously, there was a risk to that if I broke it again or made it worse. But I just wanted to go out there with my teammates and win as many games as possible.”
It all turned out well, as Williams’ brilliant season fueled Arizona’s run to the Elite Eight.
With a game-saving block against Memphis, a game-winning 3-point play against Texas and an epic first half against Duke, Williams’ stock soared during the NCAA Tournament (at least among those not in the West who hadn’t seen him play much.)
He ended his sophomore year averaging 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds, getting to the free throw line more than anyone in the country (8.7 attempts per game) and making 42 of 74 3-point shots (56.8 percent).
Not bad for someone, as he says, was shooting with “three fingers” for several weeks.
His willingness to play hurt — and his effectiveness while doing so — should be another positive in the eyes of NBA scouts.
“I think it really helps me, the draft stock, saying that I was basically playing with a cast on my hand — just using my left hand whenever I could, except for shooting threes and free throws,” Williams said.
“Being able to use both hands during the season, for a good part of the season, I think really helped my draft stock.”