Long before Cavaliers reserve forward Derrick Williams became the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft, his mother Rhoma Moore told him to “Just be true to you.”
For Williams those words have always been the comforting inspiration for the ultra talented, but often maligned 6’8 University of Arizona product who impressed Cavs general manager David Griffin that he signed him for the remainder of the season after two 10-day contracts.
“ Yeah, my mom told me that (Just be true to you) no matter how far I go in this game it’s more than just a basketball player. She (his mom) wants me to be that aggressive player on the court all the time. Just be true to yourself and don’t believe everything that others may say, whatever you believe is right is what she’s always told me,” Williams explained to the Call & Post from the Cavaliers practice facility in Independence Ohio last week.
Williams, who prepped at La Mirada High School in Southern California, hails from one of the most productive regions for basketball players in the world.
“There are about 40 or 50 NBA players from So Cal that I can just name off the top of my head that I could go into an open gym back home and get me some good run,” he said.
However, it was former NBA veteran Brad Miller who offered him the best advice that he still benefits from today.
When he came into the NBA in 2011 he says there have been plenty of players who have influenced him through the ups and downs, but Miller’s tips transformed his mindset.
“Brad Miller was always on me, telling me you gotta do this-you gotta do this. It just made me better because if he really didn’t tell me that and just didn’t say anything to me that’s even worse. I think the more people talk to me is because they want me to succeed and he wasn’t on me because I was playing bad, he wanted me to give the extra effort every time,” Williams elaborated.
The Cavs became Williams 5th team since he requested his release from the Miami Heat, which had signed him to a one-year deal, following stints in New York, Sacramento and Minnesota.
He had about five teams that showed interest in him, but it was a phone call from Cavs forward Channing Frey that led him to joining the reigning NBA champions.
“Actually I talked to Channing Frey. He literally called me. I’ve known him for a few years now just from his Arizona connection. He called me and said we can really use you out here on this team and that it wasn’t coming from anybody else except him. That’s was gave a lot of confidence to him swaying my decision to come to Cleveland. I told him I just want to play basketball wherever it’s at and he told that I was going to play here.”
Ultimately the Cavs offered him both the opportunity and fit that he had been yearning for.
It did not hurt the Cavs had the greatest player in the NBA on their team in LeBron James.
“There are certain players every generations that a lot of kids try to model their game after and try to be like and I remember when he first got into the NBA when I was 11-12 years old. I was like, man I want to be like that guy. I’ve always been a big fan of his game, not only because I come from L.A. and I see what Kobe’s (Bryant) done and see the way he can control the game and LeBron has his ways of the way he controls the game too. It’s just different, Magic (Johnson) has his way of controlling the game too he was 6’8 people didn’t know where he was passing the ball but he knew where his teammates spots were and he (LeBron) like a mixture of both of those guys. He can score and pass, he’s an athletic beast and you can’t stop him he’s like a freight train.”
Williams admits that he has learned so much from James in just the three weeks he’s been on the team. “He just gives me the confidence, telling me to shoot the ball and really be aggressive on both ends of the court. When it is all said and done he will be one of the top 5 players to ever play this game for sure.”
Griffin, who is arguably the best general manager in the NBA, defers the credit for the signing of Williams to the culture that has been established with the Cavs.
“It’s because of the players you have around him. When you have LeBron and Kyrie (Irving), Kevin (Love) it tends to make the pieces around them a lot better. LeBron in particular makes it possible out of every player, so we look really good at our job because they get the most out of what we give them and the buyout situation is that great players are attracted by great players,” Griffin told the Call & Post.
“Derrick was a really big deal for us because it was something we had been talking about we needed. We had a need for athleticism and defense. For him to become available the way he did and then performing on 10-day contracts we were proud of that and that was important for us,” added Griffin.
Griffin says the Cavs were really blessed that Williams saw that the Cavs could be the best situation for him. “He saw the fit was special for him and he saw the players we had could help make him better, the role that Ty Lue envisioned him playing and all of those things were meaningful for him. But I think if you look where he was drafted and the career he’s had up to this point we’re the first organization or group of players that have really been able to put him in a position to do only what he does well and he recognize that.”
I first met Williams as a 17-year senior when he participated in my annual high school all -star game Collision.
He was considered among the most talented seniors in the region, although he had only played AAU basketball for two years prior to high school.
After originally committing to play for USC, he decided to play for Arizona and it was his performances for the Wildcats that catapulted him onto the national stage.
When it is all said and done, Williams wants to be remembered as a guy who embraced all of the little things to turn his career around.
“Trying to help another top 5 player win another championship. That’s the goal. I want to be the help that factors into that piece that’s why I’m here.”