MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — To say Derrick Williams wasn’t highly recruited out of high school might be an understatement.
Williams remembers playing in La Mirada, Calif., and checking all the recruiting websites and outlets to see where he was ranked among the best high school players in his draft class.
One small problem: He wasn’t.
“There was actually one site where I was top 100,” Williams said. “I was pretty happy. I was excited. Other than that, no. In ESPN I was 72 and everything else I wasn’t even top 100.”
Two short years later, Williams is No. 2. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected the Arizona power forward with the second overall pick in the NBA draft Thursday night.
He held his introductory press conference Friday and reflected on just how quickly he went from being a complete unknown to labeled one of the potential stars in the entire draft.
Williams didn’t start focusing seriously on basketball until the 10th grade, after he grew about 6 inches to 6-foot-6 in a nine-month span.
“That’s really why I stopped playing baseball. The strike zone got a lot bigger,” he joked.
Not being a child prodigy caused him to miss the years of AAU basketball in middle school that some of today’s star players were exposed to as teenagers. The constant back-slapping and idol worship that plagues the circuit never got to Williams, who was motivated to prove he was just as good as some of the more highly touted members of his class.
“A lot of people, when they see themselves in the newspaper or the media at such a young age, they kind of stop working as hard because they think they’ve already made it,” Williams said. “I just took it as motivation, not seeing myself in the newspaper and wanting to be on that level. It’s motivation for me. Just hard work and determination, it’s really helped.”
It didn’t take him long to start making a splash with the Wildcats.
Williams was the Pac-10 freshman of the year in 2010, then averaged 19.5 points and 8.3 rebounds to earn the conference player of the year honors last season.
Just like that, he was one of the hottest commodities on the market, even garnering interest from Cleveland for the top overall draft pick.
“It went really fast,” Williams’ mother, Rohma Moore said of her son’s rise. “And, I think, faster than he expected.”
Williams seems to be handling it all in stride Friday, trying his best to stay humble while the accolades and recognition he craved as a high schooler were being heaped upon him shortly after his 20th birthday.
“He’s just now ramping up and sort of passing all those guys who were ranked higher than him,” said his agent, Rob Pelinka. “He’s had a hunger that wasn’t satiated when he was 12 or 13 in some of the AAU circles where people were telling him how great he was. He’s had to prove it with his play. And I think that’s why his character and work ethic are so high.”
In Minnesota, he’ll be playing on a team full of “tweeners” — players that play multiple positions, like him. Michael Beasley is a small forward-power forward. Wes Johnson is a shooting guard-small forward. Anthony Randolph is a forward-center.
The redundancy of his skill set doesn’t seem to bother Williams, who worked out with Johnson and Beasley in Los Angeles this summer and formed a fast friendship. He’ll spend the rest of the summer working with a couple of trainers to drop about 10 pounds, making him quick enough to play small forward, which is where he thinks he fits best in the NBA.
Timberwolves president of basketball operations David Kahn reiterated Friday that Williams will not be traded.
“He can start looking for an apartment or a home,” Kahn said. “He’s part of our family.”
Pelinka insisted Minnesota was still a good fit for his client, pointing to the Oklahoma City Thunder and Phoenix Suns of a few years ago as examples of teams who can have success without conventional starting lineups.
“I wouldn’t pigeon hole him into a four or a three,” Pelinka said. “He can do both. The great players in the game can do that. What’s Kevin Durant? Or Dirk Nowitzki goes all the way to the finals and he doesn’t have a position. I think the league is becoming more of a hybrid league.”
Williams is soft-spoken and humble when speaking to the media, but his mother says she sees a different side of him when he hits the court.
“He walks around, you see this humble kid, he’s gliding around,” Moore said, “and then you see him beasting it up out there, just being a beast.”
Now he has a whole new set of doubters in the NBA. Many draft analysts called this class the weakest in years, saying there were no clear-cut, perennial All-Stars in the bunch.
Williams just shrugs. He’s heard that all before.
“I’ve come a long way since high school,” he said. “Barely got recruited. It’s an honor and a blessing to have this opportunity. I’m going to take full advantage of it.”
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