He is the second most efficient offensive player in college basketball, trailing only Connecticut's Kemba Walker; and Derrick Williams has shot up NBA draft charts with some analysts projecting him as a lottery pick.
It was odd, then, to hear Arizona coach Sean Miller rip the Arizona sophomore mercilessly after the Wildcats' 22-point loss to BYU on Dec. 11. Miller told reporters that a team led by a 6'8" forward who scores plenty but doesn't defend will likely finish 16--15, which was the Wildcats' record last season.
"Can Derrick be equally good on defense as he is on offense? Can he not commit silly fouls and not give in on plays?" Miller asks. "He has all the ability, but will he be fully committed? He's our leader, so for us to get better it has to start with him."
Miller is being a little harsh, but he's got big plans for his steadily improving Wildcats. Arizona is 12--3 after losing to Oregon State on Sunday, with their only other losses coming against the then No. 18--ranked Cougars and then No. 6 Kansas. Williams, last season's Pac-10 freshman of the year who is averaging 18.6 points and 6.7 rebounds, is the primary reason. After making just four three-pointers last season, Williams has already connected on 14 of 20 (70.0%), and his free throw shooting percentage has improved to 77.7% from 68.1% in 2009--10.
"I think what I did last year, about 90 percent of it was just effort," Williams says. "Coach [Miller] called me into his office a month after last season and told me what I had to work on—my jump shot and my dribbling and free throws. That work has helped me, and it has helped the team."
To help the team to a conference title, however, Williams has to heed Miller and become an elite defender.
"I've talked to him about David West and Derrick Brown, two guys I coached at Xavier who are in the NBA, and the competitiveness they showed in every segment of every game," Miller says. "Derrick wasn't one of those kids who was told how great he was since the seventh grade. He wants to get better on the defensive end."
Asked about Miller's harsh criticism following the BYU loss, Williams says, "I deserved it. I didn't come to play, and the rest of the team followed me. Coach coming at me like that, I was O.K. with it because he was right and because I know I can be better [defensively]."
Williams isn't as certain that he can fulfill another of Miller's requests: to play "meaner."
"Coach wants me to show some swagger because sometimes we play down to the level of our competition," Williams says. "That's not really me; I'm not about ego and being cocky. But if [Coach] says that more swagger is what we need, I'll try."
In the watered-down Pac-10, that might just be enough to put the Wildcats on top.
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PETER BERNAL (WILLIAMS)
TIME TO GET MEAN Under his coach's prodding, Williams is pushing to become a complete player.