Q&A with Wolves Forward Derrick Williams

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Just over a year ago, Derrick Williams began his rookie season with big expectations. The No. 2 overall pick in the 2011 draft, was supposed to step in, play big minutes and immediately rack up double-doubles with regularity. Instead, Williams averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in 21.5 minutes, shot 41% and posted just 2 double-doubles in an inconsistent rookie campaign.

So far, his second season has been more of the same, but there is hope. An injury epidemic has left the Wolves desperate for offense so, with limited options, acting coach Terry Porter inserted Williams into the starting lineup on Thursday, where he figures to stay for the immediate future. If the former Arizona star does take advantage of this latest opportunity however, he could be punching his ticket out of town. Williams name has been swirling in the trade winds for months.

I caught up with the 21-year-old forward after Friday’s practice and chatted about his uneven, young career.

DZ: You got the start last night, how important is that to you?

WILLIAMS: It’s really important. It gets my confidence up a little bit and shows the coaching staff and everybody believes in me. We needed a little change up and inserted myself and Ricky into the lineup. I think it really helped. We are still struggling shooting from the field, but as soon as we start hitting shots and things start to fall, we’ll be all right.

DZ: It’s been a crazy year for a lot of reasons, but personally for you, your minutes have been up and down; how do you deal with that?

WILLIAMS: It’s a little tough, my minutes have been a little sporadic – I might play a lot and then sometimes I might not. You just have to stay ready. In this league, it’s all about who is the most focused and ready when their name is called.

DZ: When your minutes do go down a little bit and you do get into the games, is it hard not to think “if I miss my first couple shots, I’ll be back on the bench”?

WILLIAMS: It is a little tough. At first, when we were healthy with Kevin in the line-up and myself coming in for him, I think you do think about that a little bit. It’s a little tough playing behind a guy like Kevin, he’s out there averaging 25 and 12 a night and he’s going to play 35, 40 minutes a night. At the same time, you can learn from guys like this.

DZ: Obviously, it’s your second year, what do you know now that you didn’t know a year ago?

WILLIAMS: You just have to be focused every game, that’s really one of the biggest things – staying ready. I don’t think last year – I wouldn’t say I wasn’t ready – but, sometimes I lost a little focus. It could be because every night you are playing in a different city – the travel and things like that. It takes a toll on you. You just have to keep your mind and body ready at all times.

DZ: Being drafted as high as you were, there is a lot of pressure coming in, people want to see you blow up right away. When that didn’t happen is it hard not to get down on yourself?

WILLIAMS: A little bit. I think it’s all about opportunity. Sometimes when you are drafted so high, you are on a bad team. We are actually not a bad team. We are struggling right now, but before we had a couple of injuries last year, we were in 6th place and in the playoffs - things fell apart towards the end.

Sometimes when you are on a bad team and get drafted so high and people expect you to average 25 and 10 rebounds, but we are a good team, we have good players. We had a few guys in the same position I was in. It was tough, but you have to keep pushing. I use Gerald Wallace as an example. When he was on the Kings, he didn’t play too much, sporadic minutes like me and then, all of the sudden, he becomes an All Star. It’s all about opportunity.

DZ: Your name got mentioned in a few trade rumors, they were big ticket trades, that shows you have some value. How do you deal with that when you hear those kinds of things?

WILLIAMS: It’s tough when you hear your name in trades like that every other day. You just try not to focus on it. At the end of the day, you play for the love of the game and then there’s the business side of the game. You can’t really look into it. I am here to play basketball; I am not in the office making decisions like that. I don’t want to be in the office, it is a little tough for people like that. I am just out here playing the game that I love and whatever happens happens.

DZ: I’ve heard veteran players say that the first time you hear your name mentioned in trade rumors, you take it personally and after you’ve been in the league a while, you know that’s just the business. Is there anyone you talk to about that kind of stuff?

WILLIAMS: Yeah, I talk to B-Roy all the time. Him being a high draft pick like myself back in the day and going through what he’s gone through, being one of the best players in the league at one point and to where he is right now. I am always talking to him about the ups and downs in the league, ups and downs of injuries, ups and downs of minutes and things like that. He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever talked to in regards to all of the things I just said. I’ve always looked up to him; he’s always going to be one of my favorite players. He’s even better off the court, because you can talk to him about anything – basketball or whatever it might be.

DZ: One last thing, you guys are in town all weekend through I think Monday or Tuesday and it’s supposed to get really cold. You grew up in California, what’s that like for you?

WILLIAMS: It’s tough after growing up in 75 degree weather with the ocean breeze and then going to Arizona where it’s a 110 and then coming here where it’s -10. You just have to deal with it. At the end of the day, you are not here for the weather; you are here to play basketball.

See more of David Zingler’s interviews with Timberwolves players:

December 28: Greg Stiemsma

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