Closer Look: D-Will

by Alex Kramers Contributor

Get an inside look at No. 13’s basketball roots, longtime mentors and favorite pastimes.

It didn’t take long for Derrick Williams to electrify and energize the capacity crowd at Sleep Train Arena.

In his Sacramento debut on Nov. 29 2013, No. 13 threw down numerous highlight-reel dunks – none more captivating than a soaring, alley-oop slam over L.A. Clippers All-Star Blake Griffin.

Williams – a spectacular athlete, who possesses a unique combination of quickness, refined footwork and tremendous power – can’t help but chuckle as he recounts the special moment, reminiscing about the very first of his now countless above-the-rim finishes.

“A lot of people might think this is funny, but (I didn’t dunk) until 10th grade,” says the 2012 NBA Slam Dunk Contest participant. “It’s pretty late, but ever since then, (I’ve done it) pretty much (every game).”

While basketball entered his life at the age of three, when his mother encouraged him to try his hand at the sport, the California native didn’t join an organized team until his freshman year of high school. Six years later – upon averaging an eye-opening 19.5 points on 59.5 percent from the field and 56.8 percent from behind the arc, 8.3 rebounds and 1.0 steals per outing as a sophomore at the University of Arizona – the 2010-11 Pac-10 Player of the Year was chosen second overall by the Minnesota Timberwolves in the NBA Draft.

“It’s pretty crazy,” says Williams reflecting on his basketball journey. “Always staying motivated, (having) passion (to) just try to get out there and prove people wrong – that’s how I’ve been doing it since Day 1.

“Not being in the ESPN Top 150 to being a top-two pick five-to-six years later? You can’t ask for anything more.”

The former Wildcat – who modeled his multifaceted game after Hall of Famers Magic Johnson and Scottie Pippen – credits the mentorship of fellow Wildcat alumni, including a Kings legend and a current Sacramento guard, for his rise to prominence and rapid development into one of the nation's top prospects.

“(There are) so many players, especially a lot of U of A players – Mike Bibby, Jason Terry – I looked up to growing up and still talk to a little bit,” he says. “A few (other) guys at Arizona – Steve Kerr – all those people, all the older guys, you have to look up to those guys, especially when you’re playing after them. They always give you advice, whether it’s about workouts or how games go.”

Following a 2011-12 NBA All-Rookie Second Team berth, Williams made significant strides in his second professional season, averaging 15.0 points and 6.3 rebounds per game while starting all 32 games after the All-Star break. Yet, despite showing flashes of his immense potential, the 6-foot-8 forward began the 2013-14 campaign out of the rotation in Minnesota, recording 4.9 points on 35.2 percent from the field in 14.7 minutes per outing, while sitting out four contests due to Coach's Decision.

In Sacramento, No. 13 has nearly doubled his scoring average to 9.2 points per game while connecting on a career-high 44.8 percent from the floor, relishing the chance to showcase the offensive repertoire that caught the eye of scouts and talent evaluators across the country. Williams notched a career-high 31 points on 12-of-16 from the floor to go along with five steals in a win over Dallas on Dec. 9, 2013, and recorded 26 points and 12 rebounds against L.A. on Feb. 28.

“All I’ve been saying ever since I got to the NBA – and I think a lot of people in this locker room can say the same thing – it’s just all about opportunity,” he says. “Doesn’t matter what number you get picked, it’s just all about opportunity. Like my man (Isaiah Thomas) – he was the 60th pick and he’s really blossoming for our team. (For me), coming into the right spot, being able to play my game, the same thing is happening.”

Playing on an up-and-coming Sacramento squad, which features five fellow players under the age of 25, has helped Williams make a seamless transition following the early-season trade he describes as one of the most hectic 48-hour stretches of his career.

“I think that’s the good thing about our team – we can all gel together,” he says. “We all want to hang out, on and off the court.”

Kings players, coaches and broadcasters have been impressed with the forward’s unparalleled athleticism and innate scoring instincts.

“I played against him for two years in the Pac-10, so I already knew what he was capable of,” says Thomas. “He’s so versatile – he can shoot the ball, he can put the ball on the floor, he can play with his back to the basket. He brings a lot to our team every night.”

“We’ve had some guys who can play (small forward) and (power forward), but none that athletic,” marvels Kings TV Color Analyst Jerry Reynolds. “Hedo Turkoglu had some of those types of abilities … but he wasn’t nearly as athletic as Derrick.

“I really like him. I think he’s a terrific player, he has the potential to get better and I would be surprised if he didn’t.”

As he continues to display his diverse skill set on a nightly basis, Williams recognizes his best basketball lies ahead.

“I’m still young – (I’m the third)-youngest player on this team,” he says, a wide smile revealing clear braces arching across his front teeth. “I’m 22 years old. I think a lot of people don’t know that still. A lot of people think I’m 27, 28. I’m still young and still learning.

“I just try to work a little harder than the next player – that’s how I got here. I’m not going to stop until I reach all of the goals I want … I just want to be the best possible player (I can be).”

Free Throws

- When he isn’t honing his craft or lifting weights, Williams prefers to relax on the couch, most often catching reruns of some of his favorite TV shows – including “Prison Break,” “First 48” and “CSI” – or playing video games such as "FIFA," "Call of Duty" and "Battlefield.”

“I think a lot of people who really hang out with me know that I’m a homebody – I like to just chill in my house," he says. “I’m a big (video) gamer. A lot of people ask me if I play ‘(NBA) 2K14’ and ‘Do you play as yourself?’ … but I actually don’t play any basketball games.

"(If I'm out), I’m either out fishing or paintballing. (When I’m in) L.A., there’s all types of stuff (I like) to do – going to amusement parks, Disneyland and stuff like that (or) go to the beach.”

- Since arriving to Sacramento, the forward has embraced a nickname bestowed upon him by purple-and black faithful.

“A lot of people call me ‘D-Will,’ and I got ‘D-Thrill’ from Sac – (the fans) all started calling me that and it’s cool,” he says. “Nobody really calls me Derrick. The only person who calls me Derrick, really, is my mom.”

- An avid hip-hop and R&B listener, Williams enjoys music from Toronto-based rappers Drake and PartyNextDoor, as well as multi-time Grammy Award winner John Legend.