Can Derrick Williams be a small forward in the NBA? Can he shoot the NBA 3-pointer? Can he defend?
Arizona Wildcats coach Sean Miller says he has little doubt that Williams can, over time, do whatever he wants to on the basketball court. It’s when you add that skill to his personality and character that you really have something.
“My advice to him has always been, ‘Don’t change who you are,’” Miller said in an interview with TucsonCitizen.com on Wednesday.
“That’s his greatest gift. He’s a great teammate. People are going to love the fact that he’s part of their organization. That humble approach has worked for him, and Derrick is always going to follow that script.”
Miller’s advice to Williams applies now and always — because everything else around the 20-year-old is about to change. Money. Fame. Pressure. Business. Hangers-on who don’t have his best interests at heart.
There were times during the waves of pre-draft interviews when Williams, to some eyes and ears, came across as brash and cocky.
If asked if he thought he was the best player in the draft, he said yes. If asked if he thought he should go No. 1, he said yes. That actually seemed more like honesty than arrogance, which he didn’t display publicly at Arizona.
“He’s going to stay grounded,” Miller said.
Toward that end, Williams has opted for a conservative look for the draft, where young men have often made ridiculous fashion statements (Jalen Rose’s red pinstripe from 1994 is still much-discussed). Williams tweeted on Wednesday this picture of his business-like draft-night attire.
He figures be getting a call from either the Cleveland Cavaliers, who have the first pick in Thursday’s NBA Draft (ESPN, 4 p.m. Tucson time), or the Minnesota Timberwolves, who pick second.
Miller will leave Tucson on Thursday morning to join Williams, family and friends at the draft, which will be held at the Prudential Center in Newark, N.J.
This will be Miller’s first trip to the draft.
“More than anything, I’m just so excited for Derrick and his family. So rarely do you even have the opportunity to be part of the NBA. But to be the first or second pick, it’s an exciting time for him. For me, it’s about supporting him and knowing how far he has come.”
As Williams made the rounds of ESPN interviews on Tuesday, he repeatedly said how blessed he was to be in this situation and how, two years after graduating with modest recruiting expectations from La Mirada (Calif.) High School, he could never have imagined this moment.
Miller, who had just taken the reins of the Arizona program, said he wouldn’t have believed it either.
“But I would have believed it this March,” said Miller, who signed Williams after he got out of his letter-of-intent to USC following Tim Floyd’s resignation.
“He made it become a reality. He really earned his way into the place he is now. I look back to 24 months ago, we were working hard just to convince Derrick to come here. One thing is sure: 24 months go by real fast. It is amazing.”
Williams has maintained through the pre-draft process that he is a small forward, not a power forward like he was at Arizona. It’s not a small distinction, but Miller says it’s also much to do about semantics.
“Fans, even media, try to pigeon-hole players into an area. It’s not about that. The game has evolved,” Miller said.
“You look at Kevin Durant,” Miller added, referring to Oklahoma City’s 6-foot-9 forward. “I can make the argument he is sometimes a shooting guard, a small forward and sometimes a power forward. I’m going to do that with Derrick.
“He is going to score. He is really explosive. He will hit the ground running in the NBA on offense. Where his learning curve is going to be is on defense. But where he is on day one is not where he will be three or four years down the road.”