ARIZONA BASKETBALL

In the lane and on the line, Williams shows his strength

2010-01-22T00:00:00Z 2013-09-10T16:57:57Z In the lane and on the line, Williams shows his strength Bruce Pascoe Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 22, 2010 12:00 am  • 

Arizona coach Sean Miller held a push-up drill for his five incoming freshmen last July, and details about the results are still a bit fuzzy.

Miller said Thursday that only guard MoMo Jones could do a single push-up. Sophomore guard Kyle Fogg said he heard the new guys were "weak."

But freshman forward Derrick Williams has a different memory.

"I did all right," Williams said.

By now, though, the truth matters only as a reference point. Fogg said all the freshmen have gotten noticeably stronger, and that Williams has grown on the court faster than he thought possible.

A 215-pound wing forward at Southern California's La Mirada High School who popped in three-pointers at a 40 percent rate last season, Williams has morphed this season into a 240-pound post player who goes to the foul line 7.9 times a game.

Oh, and he's also among the Pac-10's top 10 in both scoring (15.3, eighth) and rebounding (7.2, sixth).

In some ways, Williams still can't believe it's happening.

"It's surprised me a little bit," Williams said. "I didn't think I'd get fouled as much as I did. I didn't think I'd get fouled and pick up 15, 20 points or whatever. I thought I'd just come and be a role player."

He was underestimating himself.

"Derrick is a terrific kid," Miller said. "If you're around him five minutes, you'll see his great humility. He probably doesn't expect enough from himself, truth be told."

At first, Miller didn't know what he could expect right away. Miller didn't start Williams for the Wildcats' Nov. 15 opener against NAU, playing him just 17 minutes while starting Kyryl Natyazhko at center.

But Williams had 10 points and six rebounds four nights later against Rice and, the next week, dropped 25 on Wisconsin in the Maui Invitational while setting a school record with 21 free throws attempted.

Now Williams is the Wildcats' leading scorer in Pac-10 games with an average of 16.0 points, an early leader in the conference freshman of the year race along with Washington State guard Reggie Moore.

"He was someone we felt really good about" in the early season, Miller said. "His talent, you could see in practice, but at that point he hadn't put it all together. Eight days later, he shot 21 free throws against Wisconsin. He's just got a knack to get fouled. The game comes easy to him, and he's got a good body for a freshman."

Williams' athleticism and uncanny body control are the most obvious reasons for his production inside, where he'll actually take nearly as many shots from the line (142) as from the field (153).

He goes to the line so often, in fact, that Williams has an outside chance to break the UA free-throw attempts season record set by Khalid Reeves with 264 in 1993-94.

Williams has also benefited from his work with senior point guard Nic Wise, who had no obvious targets to pass to when the season began.

"So many of our best plays on offense involve those two guys," Miller said. "Nic makes him better, as really good point guards do. Derrick feeds off of that and to Derrick's credit, he really has learned to have a great relationship with Nic on the court."

Wise wasn't available for comment Thursday, but Williams said the two have become more comfortable playing with each other after Wise often turned to Jordan Hill in the middle during the previous three years.

"I just feel he's trusting me a little more as the season's gone on," Williams said, "and it's actually opened the court up for everybody else."

Certainly, the Wildcats have been more diverse as the Pac-10 season has unfolded. UA has had four players all averaging between 12 and 16 points a game in the Pac-10 - with variances such as Fogg's relentless pursuit of the basket at UCLA (for 25 points) and Jamelle Horne's five three-pointers against Washington.

The only downside for Miller, of course, is that Williams is still a freshman. A stronger freshman, but still a freshman.

So there's going to be defensive gaffes such as leaving Oregon State's Lathen Wallace wide open for a game-winning three-pointer as he did eight days ago, and ill-advised celebrations, as Williams did after a dunk two days later at Oregon - when the Ducks raced downcourt for an easy layup.

"Where we would be without him, I can't even imagine," Miller said. "The flip side is that because of the role he plays, there are many times we have to live with his mistakes. He's come a long way and has a long way to go to play as hard as he can on every possession.

"But that's the reality for him. We're trying to get him to compete every day and also to realize what a great freshman year he's having through 18 games."

On StarNet: Get to know the Wildcats with the Star's Cat Cards player roll call at azstarnet.com/catcards/2010/bball

UP NEXT

• What: Arizona at ASU

• When: 7:30 p.m., Saturday

• TV: FSAZ

• Radio: 1290-AM, 107.5-FM

TOP FRESHMEN

The Pac-10's statistical best so far in the 2009-2010 season:

• Derrick Williams, F, UA: 15.3 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 0.8 bpg

• Reggie Moore, G, WSU: 13.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 1.4 spg

• Reeves Nelson, F, UCLA: 10.2 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 0.9 spg

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