PHOENIX -- Ever the cool California-bred kid, Derrick Williams wears the Under Armour-sponsored 'Are You From Here?' campaign on his sleeve.
In a back-to-back-to-back, the Minnesota Timberwolves' forward tripped westward. First, he played near his hometown of La Mirada, Calif., facing the Los Angeles Clippers and Los Angeles Lakers. On the third game of the brutal road swing, he flew to Phoenix, taking on the Phoenix Suns in the state where he blossomed as an NBA prospect.
The trip was a homecoming of sorts, a reminder of where he came from and where he grew into a star.
And in the middle of his first NBA season, he's finally starting to get it. He just had to remember where he was from. It was all about the California cool that didn't rattle him in leading the Arizona Wildcats to an Elite Eight berth during his sophomore year, a season that propelled him to be taken No. 2 in the 2011 NBA Draft.
"It's been pretty good," he said of his rookie season on Thursday before taking on the Suns. "You know, ups and downs, but at the same time it's been fun. I think I got a little carried away with trying to do too much and I wasn't having fun like I used to have fun. I think this game's about winning and having fun. I have to get back to doing that and it'll be alright."
Against the Clippers on Tuesday, Williams just might have had his coming out party. After slimming down about 10 or 15 pounds this season compared to his college days in attempts to fit more into a small forward mold, Williams exploded for 27 points, a career high, in a win against the Pacific Division leaders.
And he did so with more efficiency than he ever displayed at Arizona, becoming the first NBA player to shoot 90 percent from the floor with a minimun of 10 field goals attempts, go perfect from beyond the three-point arc with at least four attempts and to hit all five free throws with at least five attempts, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
Timberwolves head coach Rick Adelman believes in the guy, too. He's giving him playing time at a loaded hybrid forward position that's also occupied by Lamar Odom prototype Anthony Randolph and ex-college superstar and NBA enigma Michael Beasley.
And Williams is earning more of that playing time.
"He's played very well recently," Adelman said. "His minutes haven't been great, but he's earning minutes right now. I think he's coming along. He just need to I think be more consistent on both ends.
"He has periods where he shows us a lot and defensively he's aware of what's going on, and then he'll have moments where he slips," the Timberwolves' coach added. "You know, he doesn't see what's going on on the court. He doesn't have his concentration all the time. The other thing is he's got to stay aggressive, he's not going to be an observer. He has to have an impact on the game."
The 6-foot-8, 235-to-240-pound forward (his guess on the weight) is averaging 7.9 points and 4.3 rebounds per game along with an unimpressive 14.98 PER rating, according to ESPN. In starts, he's averaging 11.6 points and 7.4 rebounds per game.
Patience is the key, and youth is still on Williams' side.
As expected coming out of college where he played the center position for the Wildcats, defense has been the biggest learning curve for Williams. Though former coach Sean Miller was strictly man-to-man on the defensive end, there were still times Williams could coast against less-talented opponents. Plus, he wasn't forced to defend players as fast as NBA-level small forwards.
"You really have to pay attention out there," Williams said. "You got to be focused or else ... you can have a guy go for 40, 50 on you. You just have to keep your head on a swivel, keep focused out there and do what the coaches ask or else you'll be on the bench the whole game."
Offense comes with more difficulty as well. Zone defenses don't operate in the same fashion with an extended three-point line and the three-second violations in the paint, and as an offensive specialist, that means there's adjustments to be made.
"In college, everything is run for that certain player and most of the time," Williams said, "you know, everybody's looking at you to try to do everything, kind of like the horse for the whole team; everybody's on your back. On the NBA, everybody's at your level."
Despite a 2-for-10 shooting night on Thursday against Phoenix, Williams' recorded three steals and six points in front of his former coach, Sean Miller, and Arizona athletic director Greg Byrne.
Ask coaches around the league, and patience is key for Williams.
"I think he's going to be a terrific NBA player," Suns head coach Alvin Gentry said. "He's no different than any other great player. I just think the experience thing; the more he plays, the better he's going to get.
"I think you have to go back and see what he did for his team in college. He put them on his back. He came very close, I mean, a jump shot away from the Final Four."
Williams on if he'll be coming out with his own Under Armour shoe soon: "Yeah, beginning of next year I'll probably have my own shoe. That'll be pretty good. Got to get with the design team and get that shoe out there. Just throwing out designs and ideas and so far, got a few. Got to work on it a little more."
Alvin Gentry on Williams as a player. "He's kind of that athletic position that can be a big 3 or a hybrid 4 that can make the match-ups really tough. He's ahead of the game because I think he's got great shooting range. The thing that's impressive with him is he can put it down and take it to the basket. And he's a pretty good decision maker. He's a facilitator, also. "
Williams on his lighter body: "I probably think if it gets to that point and I want to be 230, I can be 230. There's only so few people who can do that in the league; be 260, 265 out there and can run and jump like LeBron. I think in between 230 and 240 is the perfect weight for me."
Williams on the current Arizona team: "They're doing pretty good, they're not bad. It is pretty tough when both your scoring leaders leave the program ... the people that they look up to each and every day. It really does hurt. At the same time, they're doing a great job. I think they're going to make the playoffs; playoffs, tournament. I'm thinking NBA now. But they're going to make the tournament. They got some guys that can definitely make the NBA one day, and those guys should be able to pick it up. Solomon's doing great right now. He's really stepping up to push that team to make the tournament. That Pac-10 tournament is really going to set their whole future up."