LAS VEGAS — There were thousands of questions that could have been asked following Arizona’s 78-65 loss to USC in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament on Wednesday. What’s going to happen to Sean Miller after the federal trial in April? How talented will Arizona be next season? Who, aside from departing seniors Justin Coleman and Ryan Luther, will leave the team?
Brandon Williams provided at least one answer.
The freshman guard said Wednesday that he's returning for his sophomore season and will be more locked in than ever.
“It (stinks) that you lose early, especially when you get bounced in the first round, but I’m going to come back next year determined and give it my all,” Williams said. “We have a great recruiting class coming in and with the rest of the guys coming back, I gotta make plays for the team.”
It was a roller-coaster year for Williams and the Wildcats, and the 2018 four-star prospect wasn’t afraid to admit that he needed guidance in his first collegiate season. Williams flashed his potential in spurts throughout the season, averaging 11.3 points and 3.4 assists per game.
He also battled a congenital issue in his right knee known as osteochondritis dissecans, which occurs when bone beneath the cartilage of a joint dies due to lack of blood flow. Williams missed six Pac-12 games, returning Feb. 21. The Wildcats went 1-5 without him.
Williams said Wednesday that the lingering problem “took a toll on me mentally.” He dealt with the same issue in high school, undergoing surgery in January 2017.
Brandon Williams on battling a knee injury during the season: “It took a toll on me mentally.” Williams also talks about Justin Coleman as a mentor: pic.twitter.com/MSmC5He9Ud— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) March 13, 2019
This time, however, Williams was able to lean on what he called "the old guys."
“I got guys like Ryan Luther and Justin Coleman, the old guys — my bad; the older guys — that can help me out and help me mentally,” Williams said.
Williams especially leaned on Coleman, his backcourt-mate. Their paths to Tucson were completely different, yet the two fed off each other’s personalities in practices and during games. Williams was a four-star recruit from Los Angeles that stuck with the Wildcats despite coach Sean Miller's reported connection to a pay-for-play scheme.
Justin Coleman on playing one season at Arizona and mentoring Brandon Williams: pic.twitter.com/hQOUvo2ahy— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) March 13, 2019
Coleman was a graduate transfer playing on his third college team. Once upon a time, Coleman learned from two upperclassmen at Alabama. He said that Retin Obasohan and Levi Randolph showed him how to lead. He passed it on to Williams.
“They took me under their wing and showed me how to be a leader, work hard and they showed me how to be a better teammate," he said. "When I was here, I wanted to show these guys how to be better people on and off the court."
Coleman made sure to sprinkle his wisdom on Williams in his lone season at Arizona.
“He’s a great kid. To see him (from) the summer until now, he’s grown tremendously as a basketball player, but also as a leader,” Coleman said. “He’s going to lead these guys next year to a better season than this year.”
Brandon Williams says he’s “gonna be in Justin Coleman’s spot and teach Nico (Mannion) the ropes” next year. pic.twitter.com/C7mdmqkgSH— The Wildcaster (@TheWildcaster) March 13, 2019
Williams is expected to be the veteran in the backcourt next season, when a highly touted recruiting class highlighted by Phoenix point guard Nico Mannion arrives on campus. Mannion, a McDonald’s All-American, is expected start at the position. Williams, who will likely stay at shooting guard, will be there to help the freshman along.
“I’m gonna have to be in Justin Coleman’s spot and show Nico the ropes and just teach him what I went through," Williams said. "Coming in here as a freshman and having a guy like Justin Coleman — an older guy — he taught me how to be mature,” Williams said.
The leadership torch from Coleman to Williams has been passed. And Arizona's freshman could be an "old guy" as soon as next season.