Derrick Williams: 'It's my job to help this team win more games'
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MINNEAPOLIS - Six years ago, basketball was more of an afterthought for 20-year-old Derrick Williams, the newest addition to the Minnesota Timberwolves.
"I really didn't start taking basketball serious until about ninth grade or so," Williams, who was selected by the Wolves with the No. 2 overall pick in the NBA Draft on Thursday night. "In ninth grade I was six foot at the end of ninth grade I was about six-six, so I grew six inches in about a nine-month span and I think that's really why I stopped playing baseball -- the strike zone got a lot bigger."
His development escalated quickly as the 6-foot-9 forward underwent a meteoric rise, going from being a mildly recruited player out of La Mirada high school in the Los Angeles area into the Wolves' highest draft pick in franchise history.
Equipped with a jersey with his new No. 7 emblazoned on it, Williams was officially introduced to the media Friday afternoon at the team's practice facility. Although the last 24 hours have been of full endless activity, he was relaxed and open when addressing the crowd.
"I'm just honored and blessed to have this opportunity," Williams said. "I think it's my job to help this team win more games they won last season or else I'll consider it a failure."
Failure isn't something Williams is accustomed to. In his two years at the University of Arizona, he earned First-Team All-Pac-10 honors in both seasons, and propelled the Wildcats to within one win of earning a bid to the 2011 NCAA Final Four. His stats were staggering as he shot nearly 60 percent from the floor (.595), while averaging 19.5 points per game in his sophomore season.
Williams' rapid development throughout his short time at the collegiate level is the reason team officials feel he is a key piece in the Wolves' push towards regaining respectability.
"I remember when we interviewed him in Chicago (at the draft combine) I almost did a double take when he said he'd only started playing seriously in the ninth grade," Kahn said. "There seems to be a very rapid arc in terms of where his career has been headed. Ideally, if this continues, it just bodes very well for us in the future."
For Williams to make a smooth transition to the pro level, the Wolves will have to make the right adjustments to their lineup next season, which is now forward-heavy, especially at the three where Michael Beasley and Wesley Johnson played for most of last season. Depending on match-ups, Kahn hinted the team may at times move power forwards Kevin Love and Anthony Randolph to the five in order to make room for their young crop of wing players.
Williams doesn't seem worried about coming into situation where playing time will be a valued commodity.
"We're all three, four type players but we play differently," he said. "I like to face up more to shoot (3-pointers). I think on the defensive side we're going to cause a lot of mismatches too. We might give up a lot of height, but we can make up a lot of it with speed and quickness and I think we can use that to our advantage."
Given all the trade speculation surrounding the Wolves prior to the draft, many fans and experts have been tentative to believe Williams is here for the long-term. But as he did on draft night, Kahn assured Friday that Williams will be in a Wolves jersey next season.
"Derrick Williams is a Timberwolf and will be a Timberwolf for a long time we hope. He's not being traded," Kahn said. "He can start looking for an apartment or a home. He's part of our family as of last night. We're thrilled to have him here. We think he'll be a great addition to the other young pieces that we have."
The NBA officially approved on Friday five of the deals the Wolves put together during what was a wild draft night.
Highlighting the moves was the trade with Houston, which sent guard Jonny Flynn, the contract rights of No. 20 pick Donatas Motiejunas and a future second-round pick to the Rockets in exchange for veteran center Brad Miller, No. 23 pick Nikola Mirotic and No. 38 pick Chandler Parsons.
The Wolves then moved Mirotic to Chicago and obtained the No. 28 selection (Norris Cole) and 43rd overall pick Malcom Lee, plus cash considerations. Cole was eventually shipped to Miami in exchange for the rights to No. 31 pick Bogdanovic, a future second-round selection and cash.
The moves continued as New Jersey acquired Bogdanovic from Wolves for another future second rounder and even more cash. Things came full circle when Houston bought back the rights to Parsons for an unspecified amount of money.
All said, the Wolves came out of the draft holding onto Williams and Lee in tow, as well as cash they could presumably put towards buying out the remaining two years of coach Kurt Rambis' original four-year contract.
At 6-foot-5 and 200-pounds, Lee is a three-year combo-guard from UCLA, where he put up 13.1 points and two assists per game in his junior season.
Williams is well acquainted with Lee as the pair matched-up against each other on several occasions during conference play in the Pac-10.
"He really likes to attack the basket and draw fouls especially," Williams said. "He can guard multiple spots. He has long arms and can get into the lane... He's just an all-around good player and I think he can really help this team, especially on the defensive side with his size and his toughness too."