Of all the players to suit up for Arizona men’s basketball under head coach Sean Miller, no one benefited as much as Derrick Williams.
An underdeveloped forward out of La Mirada, Calif., Williams was the lowest rated recruit to sign on to Miller’s inaugural class. In 2009-10, Williams blossomed as a freshman under his first-year head coach, even as Arizona barely managed to bring in a winning record.
Then came the 2010-11 season, when Williams grew into the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a Second-Team All-American. The Williams-led Wildcats reached the Elite Eight that year by dismantling Duke in the Sweet 16 in one of the most memorable NCAA Tournament games in Arizona history.
That Elite Eight run put Williams on the map as an elite NBA prospect and elevated Miller as one of the premier coaches in college basketball. Without Miller, Williams almost certainly wouldn’t be where he is today – a pro basketball veteran worth millions of dollars.
One can argue that Miller, too, wouldn’t have achieved anywhere near the success he did in Tucson without being led by a generational talent during his first two seasons coaching in the desert.
On Friday Williams, who plays for Valencia Basketball Club in Spain, made his first public comments about Miller’s firing, and unsurprisingly he stood for his coach. Here is a recap of what Williams said in a Twitter thread.
“My freshman year at Arizona was the first year for Coach Miller .. we went 16-15 .. First time Arizona didn’t make the tournament in 25 years. One year later we win 30 games , win the last Pac10 title, make the elite 8. No one remembers the bad start.. but I do , real Arizona fans do .. That’s just one example of the excellence that he demanded. He was tough on us 100% .. But every player looks back now and appreciate every second. Thank you Sean for bringing Arizona back .. you deserve much more praise .. Thank you Sean for pushing me to be great.. Thank you for showing me at such a young age what was possible with hard work .. thank you for all the great memories .. The accolades speak for themselves ..What I believe Arizona is losing, that is not easily replaceable .. someone with heart and desire to win every single game no matter what the odds are. His approach to the game every day to be the best is what will always separate him from others.”
My freshman year at Arizona was the first year for Coach Miller .. we went 16-15 .. First time Arizona didn’t make the tournament in 25 years. One year later we win 30 games , win the last Pac10 title, make the elite 8. No one remembers the bad start.. but I do ,— Derrick Williams (@DWXXIII) April 9, 2021
As the best player to compete for Miller in an Arizona uniform, Williams’ words take on considerable weight. It’s impossible not to appreciate the impact Miller left on Williams and so many of his former UA players.