Derrick Williams is a 29 year old 203cm forward from Los Angeles, California that is playing his first season with Valencia Basket (ACB). He played last season with Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul (Turkey-BSL): playing 28 Euroleague games averaging 11.3ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.2apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 60.5%, 3PT: 37.3%, FT: 66.7%; and played 17 Turkish BSL games averaging 10.7ppg, 3.6rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 55.3%, 3PT: 35.2%, FT: 63.9%. He played his first season in Europe in 2018-2019 with FC Bayern Muenchen (Germany-BBL) playing 37 BBL games averaging 11.4ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 62.0%, 3PT: 43.2%, FT: 66.7%; and played 29 Euroleague games averaging 13.4ppg, 4.2rpg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 78.4%. He also gained experience in China and played 6 seasons in the NBA with Minnesota, Sacramento, New York, Miami, Cleveland and Los Angeles amassing 428 games. He was the second pick in the 2011 NBA Draft and played 2 seasons at the University of Arizona where as a senior he led the team into the NCAA Elite 8 averaging 19.5ppg, 8.3rpg, 1.1apg, 1.0spg, FGP: 59.5%, 3PT: 56.8%, FT: 74.6%. He spoke to germanhoops.com before a Euroleague game against FC Bayern Munich in Munich.
Derrick thanks for talking to germanhoops.com. Where are you at the moment and how is basketball life treating you at the moment?
I’m in Valencia, Spain now. We are doing well in Euroleague. Life is great! I have no complaints.
How did you experience COVID-19 the last 7-8 months? Some guys played during the summer, but your season ended in March 2020
It was a little different to have the season come to a halt. First the season was postponed and I left Turkey in mid-March. Then in April the season was canceled. When I first came home, it was a struggle. You couldn’t get the essentials at the store. When you have something like 20-30 million people living in California, there won’t be a lot left. It was a long-lost season. I got used to life. Nobody ever knew what was going to happen and even today it is like that. Today it is still a struggle. It is tough playing without fans. Sports in general has changed a lot in the last months. I’m just glad that we can still play the game.
I heard many different stories of how guys tried to stay in shape despite the tough circumstances like dribbling the ball in a underground parking lot or traveling 1000 miles to find a gym. Was it a challenge for you to keep working on your craft or didn’t you have any problems finding a place to stay fit?
It was different not being able to work out indoors. You had to work out more outdoors. You just had to find things that were more available. I did some hiking and did beach workouts. Towards the end I went to Miami. There were more lenient rules there. I tried to find that normal day routine, but it all wasn’t the same when you couldn’t do those 4-4 type of drills.
With everything that you experienced off the court, how do you feel did COVID-19 make you stronger as a man?
The world stopped and nobody knew what would happen. COVID-19 made me realize what is important in life. Nobody ever expects the worst, but you have to always be prepared for the worst just in case something does happen. COVID has been a time where we all try to become stronger and become better.
You have lived now in Europe in Munich, Istanbul and Valencia. What have you appreciated most about living in places like this that you didn’t see in the NBA?
When you play in Europe, you really get to see different kind of people that really love the game and have that special passion. Everybody knows Bayern from their football program. You could see from the first game until the last game how fans began to fill the seats there. The people were all very nice in Munich. It was the same in Turkey. Turkey was one of a kind. I always encourage people to explore places where they never thought they would ever end up in. I will always remember Istanbul. The fan base was incredible and at another level. They always supported us. It is the same with Valencia. In Europe you often see fans from one city supporting the football and basketball teams. It comes hand in hand. You don’t necessarily see that in the States. A Dallas Cowboy fan might not be a Mavericks fan.
Your playing your first season with Valencia Basket (ACB Spain). The club is doing well in the Euroleague, but struggling in the ACB. Where do you see the journey of this club going this season?
Valencia already had a good team and now has new guys like myself that are trying to make an impact. You just try to add something new without stepping on anyone’s toes. I have been in a slump, but I’m trying to be more aggressive and make an impact. I have to take it one game at a time. Nobody expected us to begin like this in the Euroleague. It is still a young season and we still have a long way to go. We just have to continue to go in the gym and get better.
Your minutes are down from what you got in Germany and Turkey. What kind of role do you have and has it been tough not having that offensive kind of input that you had previously in Europe?
Of course. If I wasn’t disappointed then I would be lying. I want to make the biggest impact possible. The club brought me here to help them make the playoffs. At the same time, I have been struggling. I tore my muscle in my calf and didn’t play any pre season games. That set me back 3 weeks. That was the time where we have to come together and mesh. I have never played on a team like this where really all 15 players play and play a significant role. That is a testament to our team.
Last season you played with Fenerbahce Dogus Istanbul (Turkey-BSL) playing 28 Euroleague games averaging 11.3ppg, 3.9rpg, 1.2apg, 1.1spg, FGP: 60.5%, 3PT: 37.3%, FT: 66.7%; and played 17 Turkish BSL games averaging 10.7ppg, 3.6rpg, 2.0apg, FGP: 55.3%, 3PT: 35.2%, FT: 63.9%. What memories did you take with you from this time and what did you take from the culture in Istanbul?
Istanbul was one of the most amazing places that I have ever been in. I have wanted to play in an atmosphere like that for a club like that and a coach like Sasa Obradovic for a long time. Every player wants to play for a club, coach and atmosphere like that at least once in their lifetime.
You have played for many coaches in your career, but I’m sure never for a unique coach like Sasa Obradovic?
I know there are a lot of intense stories about coach, but this guy is a genius. He knows everything about basketball. You just want to be around a guy that loves the game as much as he does. He brings joy despite the intensity. Everyday is intense with him. That is rare and something you don’t see in the NBA. He is very detailed and knows exactly what he wants to accomplish. I’m so glad I could play for the best coach in Europe. I remember when I was playing with Munich, they all said Sasa was the best coach in Europe. You don’t realize it until you start to play for him. He is one of a kind. If you play hard with energy each day, then he will love you.
In your first season in Europe you played with FC Bayern Muenchen (Germany-BBL) playing 37 games averaging 11.4ppg, 3.4rpg, 1.1apg, FGP: 62.0%, 3PT: 43.2%, FT: 66.7%; and played 29 Euroleague: games averaging 13.4ppg, 4.2rpg, FGP: 54.2%, 3PT: 33.3%, FT: 78.4%. What was your wake up call to being in Europe for the first time where you knew that you were far away from home?
It doesn’t matter where you play, if your openminded and can embrace the situation, then it will make the adjustment easier. Munich was exactly what I needed coming from the NBA. Everybody accepted me from day 1. They gave me the ultimate confidence saying that they just wanted me to play my game. If I did that then the team would have the best chances to win.
You had some huge games including making 27 points in the exciting 83-81 win over Alba Berlin or scoring 26 points in the 88-84 Euroleague win over Zalgiris. Is there a game that you will never forget?
Those were some of my best games in Europe. Those were fun times. Munich will always have a special place in my heart. I will never forget Munich for giving me that first chance in Europe after having played in the NBA and China. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my experience playing for FC Bayern Munich. They allowed me to showcase my game and I will forever be grateful to them for that.
In 2017-2018 you saw China and their basketball playing for Tianjin Gold Lions (China-CBA) playing 15 games averaging 20.0ppg, 6.6rpg, 1.4apg, 1.7spg, 2FGP: 57.4%, 3FGP: 33.9%, FT: 70.5%. What was it like being the lone American and what kind of hype and admiration did you see there on a daily basis ?
China was a crazy atmosphere. That has been the only time in my career where I felt like I was really far away from home. I was in a different time zone and I had my translator Frank 24/7 because the coach didn’t speak english. He was everywhere. He did whatever I needed. If I needed room service then he gave it to me. Whenever I went to asleep, people were getting up in the States and wanted to talk to me. But I kept an open mind and embraced the situation. I knew that I wasn’t going to go anywhere and needed to accept it. It was a part of my journey. One that I will never forget.
After playing 6 full seasons in the NBA, you came back after China and played a game with the Los Angeles Lakers. How quickly after this season did you make your decision to come overseas?
It was a great experience to be with my hometown team Lakers. It was my childhood dream to play for my Lakers. I still think a lot about that time. I made my decision to go overseas about 1 month after the season. I felt like I didn’t want to go back to China and didn’t want to wait and wait again. Before I went to China, I had missed out on European deals and I didn’t want that to happen again. I had 3 offers from 2 Eurocup teams Valencia and Baskonia and Euroleague team Munich. I had no idea what the difference was between Euroleague and Eurocup. I asked my agent which team played at the highest level and he said Munich. I said ‘sign me’. The Eurocup teams offered more money, but that didn’t concern me. I wanted to play at the highest level and prove all wrong. That is why I chose Munich.
You had some very productive seasons in the NBA showing consistency and helped the Cavs reach the final as a reliable role player. You could of stayed and still be there today. Why do you think did your NBA time stop there?
I was still a free agent and to be honest I had no idea why. My time with Munich was really important, because it got me in a mode where I wanted to get better. People keep asking me why I’m not in the NBA and I say because I chose not to be in the NBA. I had deals in Europe and just wasn’t ready to go back to the NBA. I came to Europe to not only to prove to everyone else, but also to myself that I’m a good player. Being drafted so high in 2011 at #2 had a big effect on me. People right away expect you to be a superstar, but that is pretty unfair if you ask me. Look at Isaiah Thomas. He was the 60th pick. That is so hard to believe, but he has had an incredible career. Not everybody can be allstars. You can’t have 45 allstars. I didn’t average 25 points per game in the NBA, but 10 points and that is hard to do. People always told me that I should have averaged more than I did. But I’m perfectly happy where I am today
Your not even 30 years old. How realistic is the NBA still in your mind and do you miss it?
I still follow many guys in the NBA and am still good friends with many so I would be lying if I said it wasn’t on my mind. It is still one of my goals to return. I just will continue to keep working hard and maybe I will return. I turned down the NBA something other guys wouldn’t do. I know that if I did return that I would be able to make a impact. I know that I could help any team in the NBA or Europe right now.
You split the 2016-2017 season with the Miami Heat and Cleveland. What kind of experience was it finishing the season with Lebron James and reaching the final?
The Cavs were the first team in my career where the main thing was winning. It was a different atmosphere and great to be playing with incredible players that all had a significant role. Guys like Lebron, Kyrie, Kevin Love, Richard Jefferson or Channing Frye all did things on the court that I have always wanted to do. I had needed to be around guys like this on a daily basis for a very long time. I had 3 offers. I had 2 guaranteed offers from Denver and Brooklyn and a 10 day contract from the Cavs. I took the 10 day contract. I felt like I had nothing to lose and that is exactly how I played. I will never forget my first conversation with Lebron. He said, ‘Nobody will yell at you if you get a turnover. Just rebound the ball and then push it. When your open take the three and expect to get the lob pass’. I had a role with the Cavs and immediately impacted the game. When your around a guy like Lebron, you can only get better.
Where do you rank your 35 point explosion in the wild 124-121 win over your ex team Miami Heat as most memorable in your career?
Of course that was one of my most memorable games in the NBA. Everybody has one of those games that you look forward to a long time and that was one of those games for me. It was the same for me when I played Duke. The Duke win moved me from a top 20 player to a top 5 player just like that. I had a lot of frustration balled up in one explosion. I just wanted to play well against my old team. I just wanted to make myself paly well no matter what. At the end of the day all I wanted to do was prove them wrong.
You probably experienced many crazy things in the NBA, but what do you remember from You Tuber Vitaly during his streak in game 4?
That was a crazy time when Vitaly ran on the court. I had seen him before. That guy is all over the internet. Nobody expected it to happen. It was shocking at first but then it was all fun and games.
Everybody knows how versatile Lebron James is, but if he played only point guard how many assists would he average in a season?
I always felt like he had wanted to make the move from small forward to point guard. During a game he becomes the point guard. I believe that last year was his first as a point guard and he averaged 11 assists. You see great passing point guards with Chris Paul and Ricky Rubio and he is passing them then it is really a testament to his amazing talent. I think that if he played center then he would average something like 2,5 blocks per game. He is one of the great all-time players. I feel we won’t really realize how great he is until he retires. It was the same with Kobe. He didn’t get the full respect until he retired. The Lakers had been a terrible team for years not making the playoffs and then in Lebron’s second season, they will it all. I feel Lebron is 3 times Magic with athleticism. I respect every player, but there have only been 4 guys that I have that real deep respect because of the sacrifices they have made to become great. Those 4 are Lebron, Kobe, Kevin Durant, and Carmelo Anthony. I saw a lot of this sacrifice as well early in Derrick Rose’s career. I could practice a shot for a year and still not make it, but these guys make them every day and then also in tough situations.
You played a season with the New York Knicks and Carmelo Anthony. What was it like being his teammate and wouldn’t he deserve a chance to sign with a title contender before he retires?
I remember at the beginning that as I started to talk more to him the more he began to open up. His jersey was the first one I bought when I was a little kid. I showed him a pic of me in his jersey where he was 19 and I was 10 and he couldn’t believe it. I idolized his game growing up and also tried to model my game around his. He is an all around good guy. He should never have been out of the NBA. Many things that were said about him weren’t true. He is a great teammate and always took the blame. I really respect that from him. He could of pointed fingers, but he always took the L on his shoulders. He took the blame and that is something that a leader should always do. They way he was treated the last 2 years was unfair. I’m really happy that he went to Portland and revived his career. It is always fulfilling to see somebody who is that good has something taken away and then works hard to come back. I hope he does get to a real contender, but Portland is very good. It will be interesting to see what happens. I would love to see him on the Lakers. He was one of the best forwards that I ever played with. I’m really thankful to have had the opportunity to be teammates with him.
What memories do you still have of the last game against Kobe where you won 90-87 scoring 8 points and getting 9 rebounds. Did you say your farewell to him?
I think that back then I didn’t really realize what had happened when the game ended. I wanted to talk with him after the game, but I didn’t have the chance, because he was being bombarded by so many people. Early in my career, we had the same agent, so I had had some meetings with him. The main thing on my mind after the game wasn’t a farewell, but him signing my shoes. I never did get my shoes signed. Now when I look back, there were moments where I wish I would have had the courage to say something. For me moments are worth more than a signature. I have a pic with Kobe. I don’t think that I even have a pic with Lebron. I wish Kobe was still around and could explain to young guys why it’s so hard to be great and that success doesn’t happen overnight. I think that in the last 30 years, there have only been 2 guys with that incredible work ethic with Jordan and Kobe. I saw it with Kobe, because I worked out with him.
In the 2014-2015 season you played with the Sacramento Kings (NBA) playing 71 games averaging 8.5ppg, 2.8rpg, FGP: 50.9%, 3PT: 30.5%, FT: 69.1%. What kind of experience was it playing there and how vital was it having the presence of Rudy Gay on a daily basis?
Rudy is another one of those guys that I respect very much. He took me under his wing right when I arrived and I looked up to him. You tend to watch players that are the same height. He really helped my game a lot. He could score with the best of them. He came off a tough injury and fought his way back and now is with the Spurs. I’m glad he is able to play aggressive again. He was quiet, but a real competitor and a good guy.
You played 3 seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves and put up consistent stats from the start. How key was head coach Rick Adelman in your early development that allowed you to become a solid NBA player?
He was tough on me. I remember when I was drafted by Minnesota that my agent told me that he would be tough on him. Gerald Wallace also had my agent and he also had seen what coach did when he was a rookie. It was good having a coach like that as a rookie. It helped me mature more. I think when you look at guys today that are 18 or 19, they just play through their mistakes. Coach was more strict. I learned that you always have to try to make the right play and just strive not to make mistakes.
You played with many vets that aren’t playing anymore today like Brad Miller. Was there in particular one guy that really helped you adjust in your rookie season?
I’m glad you mentioned Brad Miller. He had played with Adelman years earlier in Sacramento. I remember the first thing that Brad said to me was ‘How old are you’? 19. He then snapped his fingers and said ‘don’t worry you will be 30 before you know it. I remember when I was a rookie not stretching and running up and down the floor and dunking like it was nothing. He was an allstar without athleticism. We always worked out and always stressed working on my game. He said that if you can shoot then you can play for any team. I remember the Lakers-Kings battles when I was a kid which Miller was a part of. He did a good job helping me become a better pro when I was frustrated. Everybody needs that veteran to look up. I had him.
You were teammates then with a young Alexev Shved. Does it surprise you today that he belongs to the best in the Euroleague?
No it doesn’t. I remember seeing him in the Olympics. He is a very good player that wasn’t able to showcase his game in the NBA. He just made the best out of his situation. He is one of the best scorers that you will ever see. I remember Minnesota signing Kirilenko when he was struggling because he knew no English. Whenever I return to Russia, I always go out to dinner with him. We always have an excellent time. His English is excellent now. You can talk to him about anything. I almost signed with Khimki last summer. I wanted to play with him.
How proud are you still today that you were the 2nd pick in the 2011 NBA Draft that had guys like Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and Kawhi Leonard. Is that evening a blur today or do you still have vivid memories of that?
That was the best time of my life. I still remember the night well. I worked hard for it. I remember people saying that it would be a weak draft, but it wasn’t. That was the first year where there were a bunch of Europeans drafted in the first round. People were hating on the Europeans, but we had an amazing class. I still talk to guys from that class today. Last season I was teammates with Jan Vesely. We reminisced a little last season about our careers. He has made an amazing career. Just because you didn’t play in the NBA doesn’t mean you can’t have an amazing career overseas.
You played 2 years at the University of Arizona leading them to the NCAA Elite 8 in 2011. You have played so many games in your career, but is watching the upset over Duke which had 8 future NBA players including Kyrie Irving where you steered home 32 points a game you can watch anytime?
I don’t watch the whole game now, but in the past I have watched parts of the game. This is one of those games that I will never forget and one that will forever stick with me. I still get thanked from Arizona fans today for having such a good game. Many have said that was one of the best Arizona games in many years. It helped me get drafted at #2. You need to be around good people who know how to make the right decisions in big moments. A few weeks ago, my trainer and I were listing all the Duke players that reached the NBA from that team.
Did you ever watch the tough 65-63 loss to UConn again or has that been one of those games that you just never touched on again and how long did it take you to realize that you were playing against Niels Giffey when you played Alba Berlin for the first time.
My first thought when I saw the back of Giffey’s jersey was wait a moment I have seen this guy before. It had been a long time, but then it came back to me. He won it twice which is amazing. I never watched that game again. I remember picking up 2 quick fouls. If I watched it again, I already would know the outcome and still be nervous.
You had Kyle Fogg as a teammate who has been a great player in Europe and China. When you look at his crazy talent can one say that there are simply too many talented guards in the world and too little NBA spots?
Yes that’s true. He works out so hard. There are many guys that are in the NBA, guys that have been in the league 10 years that don’t have his work ethic. He is one of those guys that when things go wrong, he can find a way to make it go right. I played against him in China. It had been a long time since I had seen him last play with Arizona. I’m glad that he is doing so well. No matter where he plays he will help that team be successful. He is also a big reason why I was drafted so high. At Arizona we went from 16-14 to 30-8 my last year. He was so important for our success being in the starting lineup and setting the tone on defense. He also has gotten so much better now. What he is doing now, he couldn’t do at Arizona. That is just a testament to how hard he works. I wish that we could be on the same team again.
How did head coach Sean Miller groom and prepare you best for a professional basketball career?
He was tough on me. He wanted me to play the 5 when I got there saying that the team and I would benefit from it. You could talk to him about anything. I think that he was surprised that I only was 2 years at Arizona. We both thought I would be there 4 years, but sometimes things change quickly. Nobody expected the NBA to come in a 2 month time. I was still maturing and was talking about getting a house off campus for the team and a week later I was gone preparing for the NBA draft. He really helped me reach a point that both of us never would have thought would have been possible. I always respect coaches who will push everyone from 1-15. The best thing that he taught me was good isn’t good enough. Even when I thought that I was working hard, he got you to work even harder. I often think what if I had remained 3 or 4 years at Arizona.
Who won a one on one in practice you or Solomon Hill?
We split. He is one of my best friends. He just had a baby. We were roommates freshman year. We had some good battles. Everything he earned came with hard work. Whatever coach asked him to do, he would do it.
Who was the toughest player that you faced in the NCAA that reached the NBA?
Jimmer Fredette. He had an unbelievable run in college basketball. I loved being his teammate on the Knicks. He can shoot from anywhere on the court. That is how good his range is. Plus he is an awesome guy
Please name your 5 best teammates of all-time)
Ricky Rubio (one of best teammates I ever had. All he did was throw me lobs my rookie season)
Kevin Love (he was a big help my rookie season. He is best example that you don’t need to be athletic to be a great rebounder)
Please construct your personal own NBA Rushmore of past or present players?
Kobe, Lebron, Jordan, Shaq
What is your personal opinion of who is the greatest of all-time Michael Jordan or Lebron James?
That is difficult because there were great players in each era. You can’t debate change in the game and so much has happened in the last 30 years. Each generation has had it’s own GOAT
What was the last movie that you saw?
Safe House with Denzel Washington. I have seen it like 50 times. It is one of my favorite movies.
Thanks Derrick for the chat.