NBA studio analyst Kenny Smith, who is moonlighting as a college basketball expert this month, admitted an oversight on Thursday night. Smith said he owes Arizona’s Derrick Williams an apology for underestimating his talents. “Derrick Williams is a man,” Smith said.
After the 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore forward put together the most impressive game of the 2011 NCAA Tournament when he single-handedly destroyed defending tournament champion Duke in Arizona’s 93-77 victory in the Sweet 16, Smith may have to change Williams’ status from “The Man” to “The Beast.” Williams’ stat line against the top-seeded Blue Devils was very LeBron-like: 32 points, 13 rebounds, 5-for-6 from behind the 3-point line and two jaw-dropping dunks.
Smith certainly wasn’t alone in praising Williams. Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski raved about him during the postgame news conference.
“He’s just a superb player. He is as good as anybody we’ve played. I should say better than anybody we played,” Krzyzewski said of the Pac-10 Player of the Year, whose 25 first-half points kept the Wildcats in the game. In the end, Williams and the Wildcats were too much for the defending NCAA Tournament champions, whose reign ended on Thursday night in Anaheim.
Coach K added, “He kept his team in the game in the first half. The rest of their team responded in the second half. He just gives you a presence all the time, that kid. He looks like he never gets tired. He can handle the ball. I think he’s actually their second best-ball handler. He is unique. He’s a very unusual player to guard. He’s a great player. A great kid. I told him afterward he is special . . . He gives you confidence. You always know you have that guy on the court. There is a physicality to this game. Clean, beautiful. He’s a beautiful player.”
Williams’ performance in the Sweet 16 against Duke is by far the signature moment of a fabulous tournament for the former La Mirada (Calif.) High School standout. It has been one big play after another for Williams, who has certainly raised his NBA draft stock the last two weeks and should be a sure-fire lottery pick come June. He made the key block against Memphis in the opening round, and then his three-point play lifted Arizona over Texas in the second round.
While Connecticut’s Kemba Walker, Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, BYU’s Jimmer Fredette and, to a certain extent, Duke’s Kyrie Irving grabbed all the main headlines prior to March Madness, Arizona’s Derrick Williams is currently shining the brightest in the Big Dance.