Where would the Arizona Wildcats be if they had a healthy Brandon Williams?
It’s a ‘what if?’ that crosses the minds of fans and head coach Sean Miller, who believes Williams would have been one of the top guards in the Pac-12 if offseason knee surgery didn’t strip him of his sophomore season.
“Brandon’s doing great. I think about him all the time,” Miller said Monday on his weekly radio show. “I see him every day because he’s here, working hard, rehabbing and we’ve tried to keep him off the road traveling with us, just because as a student that really helps him and it also helps with his knee. ... For him it’s about rehab and recovery and academics. But I’m going to tell you, today was the all-conference vote in our conference, I have zero doubt that if he were healthy, he would be on this all-conference team.”
Williams and Nico Mannion would have given the Wildcats two high-level guards capable of scoring and distributing, making their offense much more dynamic and less prone to those cold streaks that have plagued them all season.
Williams also could have eased the pressure on Mannion, who Miller has noted all season has had an unusually heavy workload for a freshman. (Saturday, Mannion played all 40 minutes in the loss to Washington.)
Williams averaged 11.4 points and 3.4 assists per game as a freshman, shooting 37.7 percent from the field and 31.6 percent from the field. While those numbers aren’t great on the surface, his shooting line improved immensely as the season wore on, making 39 percent of his 3s in Pac-12 play despite not being fully healthy or having the best supporting cast.
“When we recruited Brandon, I thought he was one of the best guards that we have recruited since I’ve been at Arizona,” Miller said. “Now you gotta remember that he was at about 75 percent last year, played on a team that didn’t have a lot of balance and scoring, and he was able to average 11 points per game as a freshman. And for a while there, especially before his knee really started to act up, he was actually on a trajectory to score and be even more efficient. But he was always a part of our plans and when guys like Ray Smith and him are taken away from you, it’s amazing how quickly people can forget about him.”
Williams has dealt with a congenital condition called osteochondritis dissecans in which bone underneath the cartilage of a joint dies due to a lack of blood flow. The condition also cost him his junior season of high school and prevented him from being a five-star recruit. Miller has said Williams would have been a McDonald’s All-American if he were healthy.
There have been rumors on social media and message boards that Williams is no lock to play next season because of his injury history, and when asked about his status Monday, Miller said: “We don’t know enough now, but his surgery was successful, I think his rehab has been equally successful, and I think he’s on the right track to return to the court.”