Beyond the Boxscore
Who needs Jimmer? Derrick Williams blows away Great White Hope jive & defendingchamp Duke
Jimmer Fredette is an excellent college basketball player — essentially J.J. Redick with a better publicist and no Duke stain. Derrick Williams is a future NBA star, with "future" being this November.
That's the difference and it was put on fascinating display in two Sweet 16 games 1,881 miles apart Thursday night. While Fredette spent a night in New Orleans getting pushed around by a more physical Florida team — and whining about it — Williams blitzed the defending national champions in Anaheim with one of the great NCAA Tournament games of all time.
You shouldn't be disappointed that Jimmer Mania will not be making its way to Houston for the Final Four. Not with Williams, the most exciting player in the country, (and sorry, it's not even that close) only one win from getting here.
Williams is electric, fascinating (this 19-year-old has more than a little Muhammad Ali in him, making his cocky confidence come across as more funny than offensive) and crazily diverse in his skill level. Name another player in the entire NCAA Tournament field who could beat you with a 3-pointer or an out-of-nowhere block at the buzzer.
But you know what else Derrick Williams is? He's standup.
Before Buzz Bissinger — who's gone from writing the best sports book of all time to starring as everyone's wacky, somewhat deranged, but usually (usually) entertaining sports uncle — claimed this week that Fredette's popularity is mostly due to the fact that he's the rare white star in an overwhelmingly black sport, reporters tried to see if Williams would take the bash Fredette bait. During the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament in Tulsa, Williams was asked a few times in the Arizona locker room if he thought Fredette was receiving more attention than he deserved because of outside factors.
Translation: Is he getting more national run than you because he's a white superstar?
"Nah," Williams replied in his usual relaxed way. "I love Jimmer. He's fun to watch. That's why people like him. He's entertaining."
Williams swatted down the out-of-date and out-of-touch Great White Hope silliness that sticks to Jimmer with the same relaxed force he showed in kicking Duke and its sanctimonious coach Mike Krzyzewski to the curb in California. He didn't feel the need to disrespect Jimmer to build up his own rep.
And that's where Bissinger and anyone else who brings up the Great White Hope argument with Fredette comes up lacking. It might be easy to think that Fredette's appeal depends on the fact he's white from afar, but if you spend any time around college basketball players, an almost universal respect for Fredette emerges. The kind of thing you never heard with Gonzaga's Adam Morrison at the height of his college stardom. Or any other superstar pretender.
Williams has seen Jimmer drop 49 and 33 points on the board up close as BYU's beaten Arizona two straight years, helping grow the mania.
During five days in spent Tulsa and now one in San Antonio — NCAA Tournament sites that Fredette wasn't at — his name still came up more than any other player's. Other college basketball players got a kick out of him too. And it has nothing to do with the color of his skin.
Players respect players who can bring it. Period.
Williams just happens to be a much better player. The best in fact. Jimmer's reached his peak. Williams is only finding out just how good he can be. The Arizona lifeline's 25-point first half against Duke crushes any last bit of doubt.
This was the stuff of Isiah Thomas pouring in 25 points on a busted-up ankle in the third quarter of an NBA Finals game, of Reggie Miller scoring eight points in 11 seconds to steal a playoff game. Williams changed the course of a game on the strength of his signature talent alone. Duke stood poised to roll right over Arizona, but Williams wouldn't let them.
Williams will not let Arizona lose — especially if given a second chance. He snuffed out Memphis' chance at tie in the Wildcats' first tourney game with a block at the buzzer. Yes, he needed that rushed five-second call on Texas in the second game, but once he got it, he still managed to convert a high-flying, twisting 3-point play to steal the game.
The greatest indication of his resolve is his 3-point shooting though. The built 6-foot-8 Williams doesn't fit any notion of a classic 3-point shooter. Yet, he's set to break shooting specialist Steve Kerr's school record for 3-point percentage in a season with ease.
"It would be the greatest upset in NCAA history if Derrick beats Steve Kerr's record," Arizona coach Sean Miller said in Tulsa. "If we got in the gym and had those two guys get in a shooting contest, I'd put all money on Steve. He's a shooter. Derrick's not really a 3-point shooter.
"But he's such a gamer. He makes them in the biggest moments."
Just ask Coach K.
Williams' bank-in, ultra-contested 3-pointer at the end of the first half only brought the Wildcats within six, but it left the Blue Devils reeling with doubt.
Krzyzewski — for all his motivational speeches, books, TV commercials and taking credit for the world's best basketball players winning a gold medal — could never put his team's psyche back together again. The Blue Devils were Humpty Dumpty come to life on a basketball court, shattered by the best player in the college game.
Emboldened, Arizona beat the champs and No. 1 seed by 22 points in the second half on the way to a 93-77 wipeout. Williams would throw down the dunk of the tournament in the final 20 minutes, but he mostly watched his suddenly confident teammates run right by Krzyzewski's team.
"He's certainly the best we've seen this year," Krzyzewski said of his tormentor.
Williams would finish with 32 points on 17 shots and add 13 rebounds. Fredette? He'd get 32 points too in an overtime loss. But it took him 29 shots to do it.
Jimmer's out of March, sporting some fresh bandages. But who cares? You're not missing anything.
The best basketball player in the college, the most entertaining force in the field, is still only one leap from Houston. Williams has already made one trip to the Bayou City this season, putting up 18 points and 10 rebounds in a 27-point win over Rice in front of just a few thousand people on Dec. 1.
If returns it will be as the best college basketball player in the country, one who draws a whole lot more attention. Don't fret Jimmer. Houston would be getting the better mania with Williams, a superstar on the rise.