Derrick Williams met with local media on Wednesday to give insight to his decision to forego his final two years of eligibility and declare himself eligible for the NBA draft as a sophomore. For the Pac-10 player of the year, his position in this year’s draft was just too much to pass up.
"It was a week, two-week process, maybe three week process, I don't know,” Williams said. “I know we have a good team coming back next year with me on the team or not. If I were to stay, we would have a great chance to win a national championship, but at the same time, not too many people get this opportunity, to move on to the next level.
“I've been working so hard, since I was in high school, just to get to this point, and if you're supposedly a top-five pick, you can't really turn that down."
Even though he acknowledged the great potential of the 2011-12 UA squad should he have stuck around for his junior season, he relied on the experiences of others in college basketball to help put that potential into perspective.
“I think that everybody wants to win a national championship, but it's not guaranteed, as you can tell with Duke this season,” Williams said. “They lost one player from last year's team, and a lot of their players came back to win a national championship, but it's not guaranteed.
“If I knew, twelve months from now, that we were going to win a national championship, of course I would stay. It's not guaranteed. I might not be able to play tomorrow. It's not guaranteed."
Without question, many talks about his future occurred between Williams and Sean Miller, who was there for his star player and helped him weigh out the factors of his decision.
“Coach and I just talked the pros and cons, really,” Williams said. “If I were to stay, we would be a preseason top five, a national contender for the title. Obviously we made the Elite Eight this season, two points away from going to the Final Four.
“The cons of coming back, no one wants to think about getting hurt, and that's definitely not on my mind, but it crosses your mind at some point. Coming back and you have a chance to do what you love and go to the next level, and then get hurt. That's not the main focus, but just going over the pros and cons is what it really came down to."
Although the decision to leave Arizona is one that virtually no UA fan wanted, Williams is thankful to have support from many people as he moves on into the next chapter of his life.
"It's been relaxed,” Williams said. “It's been relaxed and calm. All the Arizona fans are happy for me. Obviously, they'd want me to stay, but everybody's happy for me. Nothing but `thank you for everything, Derrick' and `you brought us back to the national spotlight'. The UA fans have been great since I've been here, and I wouldn't be anything without them.
"I think they understand. If you're a real basketball fan, if you actually know the game of basketball, which a lot of U of A fans know, then they know what situation I'm in right now. If you have a chance to make money, and do something that you love, then hopefully one day I won't have to work. This is my job (now). I think they all understand."
One of the major draws of the Arizona program is its vast alumni base, and Williams was able to reach out to several former Wildcats for their perspective and advice on his decision.
“Luke Walton especially, I talked to him, texted him a few times, and talked with him in person a few times,” Williams said. “I went over the pros and cons with him as well. He told me it was the best time of his life when he was here, and I believed him. The two years I was here were the best of my life too.
“Just talked to him, and what he went through, and what he’s going through now, it was the best decision for me to go with what I decided. If you’re top five, then there’s really no reason to go back unless you really believe you can win a national championship. I do believe that. We could win it next year if I stayed, but like I said, it’s not guaranteed.”
Aside from Walton, the John Wooden Award Finalist was able to reach out to one of the older alumnus of the program who has seen the game from all angles.
“Steve (Kerr) gave me some very good advice, some of the best because he’s been there, and been on a winning team, a championship team in the NBA,” Williams said. “He knows what it takes on the next level and even past that. He has a lot of insight on what’s happening, and next season, and just giving me his opinion throughout the whole process.”
Some of the advice from Kerr was inevitably about the looming lockout in the NBA, but not even the halt in the operations at the next level was enough to scare him away from putting his name in the draft.
“At first I was concerned,” Williams said. “I heard it all through the season, even before I was supposedly a top-five pick. At the end of the day, a top-five pick is still going to be a top-five pick going on two, three years later. Just all the feedback I’m getting is that there’s going to be a season next season. It just might be delayed a bit.”
Lockout or not, Williams has turned his eyes to the NBA and is ready to take his game to the next level, although he’s not ready to say what kind of impact he’ll have on the league next year.
“I’m not going to say I’m going I’m going to average 20 and eight like I did this season, but I think I can contribute,” Williams said. “I’m not the most athletic player in the nation, and I can’t jump out of the gym, but I can jump. I can shoot. I can basically do everything that any good player can do.”