The rumor mill only intensified when Arizona signed two more recruits, putting them one player over the 13 scholarship limit for the 2020-21 season. It appeared the writing was on the wall, that Williams was the odd man out.
But UA head coach Sean Miller clarified Tuesday that Williams’ status has not changed. He is still on scholarship at Arizona, enrolled in a summer class, and plans to finish rehabbing his surgically-repaired knee when he returns to campus later this summer.
UA players typically do not interview in the offseason, making Williams’ comments even more interesting, but Miller understands why the sophomore went public.
“You’re talking to him at 19 (years old) and you imagine how he’s chomping at the bit just to get back out there,” Miller said. “I think when he reads that he’s not going to play or he’s not going to be as good, or this and that about surgery, like all of us, he wishes he had the answers. He doesn’t completely have them all. So I don’t at all look at him as speaking out, especially even out of some frustration. I mean, heck I’m frustrated and I’m his coach. I’m frustrated for him. You can imagine how he feels.”
Miller added: “Our hope is we need to be able to get him back whenever we get clearance so that he can finish a very crucial part (of his rehab). Not until we cross that will he completely feel comfortable on when, and if and how that’s going to work on getting back onto the court. So that’s why it’s somewhat ambiguous. It’s nothing that we’re trying to hide.”
Miller said the coronavirus crisis has affected Williams more than any other Arizona player. It slowed what Miller described as the “last 25 percent” of Williams’ rehab. Williams said last month that his knee is not 100 percent healthy but “close.”
“Especially coming back from a surgery of that magnitude, that may be the most crucial part,” Miller said. “It’s the time where you’re put on the court with others. It’s a time where you get cleared to do more than just straight-line running, jumping, going side to side and shooting. And then you start to monitor his symptoms. Does he experience swelling when you do this? No. And then the other part is... when you go through surgery like you go through, it’s not your knee, you’re more susceptible to other injuries. Like, you lose your hamstring, you lose your quad. He hasn’t played 5-on-5 basketball in quite some time. So without his ability to finish everything that we set out to finish, what he did is what all of our players did. He went home, finished school, and did the best that he could.”
Miller said it has been difficult for Williams to get his knee evaluated during the pandemic, another reason he is looking forward to getting him back on campus. The Wildcats are expected to report sometime in July.
“I think the number one thing we can control is whenever we’re allowed to get him back here, we’re going to do that,” Miller said. “He’ll have our doctors, we’ll have new MRIs, he’ll be able to hopefully pick up where he left off, and give it his best to finish what he started. But for us or anybody to speculate on his future when he was never able to finish the crucial part of his recovery, that’s just not fair right now. I think we just have to let this play out. If we didn’t hit the virus, I think all the answers would be clearly on the table. Number one, I think he would know himself how healthy he is and what he can and can’t do.”
As far as the scholarship crunch goes, Miller said it will “all work out.” He noted that rosters can still change this time of year. We saw that last June when four-star recruit Terry Armstrong decided to skip college and Alex Barcello entered the transfer portal.
In this case, an opening could arise if one of Arizona’s six international signees fails to qualify academically and/or goes pro. A transfer can never be ruled out either.
“I say that with great confidence that I think it will work out, not only for our program, but I think work out for everyone involved with that,” Miller said.
If Williams does suit up for the Wildcats next season, he would be a big boost to the backcourt—and maybe even be Arizona’s best player. The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 11.4 points and 3.4 assists as a freshman, despite playing through knee pain in the second half of the season.
“With all that we’ve gone through as a program the last couple of years, one of the highlights for me is that we were able to hang on and recruit Brandon to Arizona not one time but twice,” Miller said. “I mean, Brandon is a heck of a basketball player. You guys saw him really at about, I don’t know 75, 80 percent of wherever he was as a freshman, and he was really our leading scorer if not our best overall player in that season. He could have been on the (Pac-12) All-Freshman team if he would have been able to finish. So you plug him in to our team a year ago, that’s something that we wish we had.”
Instead, Williams underwent knee surgery to correct a congenital condition, causing him to miss the entire 2019-20 season. Miller said all parties agreed the surgery was “an important part of his future”—one that we still don’t know if Arizona will be a part of.