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The opening shot, in black and white, is of an empty outdoor basketball court, lined with palm trees, wet with rain. The camera moves toward the high school, then into the gym at La Mirada High School, and Derrick Williams is there. Cue the color, Williams' red T-shirt popping.
Then his voice-over: "I didn't grow up in a broken home or a bad part of town. I don't have a rap demo. I grew up in a nice neighborhood, with food on the table. And three years ago I was a nobody."
It's a commercial, of course, for Under Armour. There will be more. That's what happens when a fellow is the second pick in the NBA draft, by the Timberwolves out of the University of Arizona. Commercials, endorsements, fame, fortune. You pick the order. But note: Those were Williams' words. He wrote them. It was part of the deal.
Williams, 21, wanted people to hear his story, even if it is a little different. He grew up in La Mirada, Calif., about 30 miles southeast of Los Angeles, without worrying about his next meal or fearing for his safety.
"Usually the story is about a guy who isn't from a good part of town, who didn't have this or that, but you still made it," he said. "I had all that stuff. Still, I wanted to be good at something."
That's putting it mildly. People who know him tell you he didn't just want to be good. He yearned for it, worked for it, pushed toward it.
Williams didn't overcome poverty, he overcame obscurity.
"I wasn't on any rankings or websites. I wasn't on anybody's watch list and I had no one to blame."
That voice-over comes as Williams goes through a workout in his high school gym.
The 6-8, 240-pound forward was, by consensus, the most athletically talented player in last summer's draft. He has the strength to play inside, the ball skills and outside shot to play the small forward position -- eventually, anyway. As a rookie with a steep learning curve, Williams has been told to concentrate on power forward by Wolves coach Rick Adelman. But in Saturday's preseason game, he hit three-pointers with an ease that had folks wondering how teams might guard a Wolves lineup with Williams, Michael Beasley and Kevin Love all able to step outside and hit shots.
But how did Williams go from a 5-9 eighth-grader who played all sorts of sports to a first-round NBA pick?
His mother, Rhoma Moore, thought he'd end up playing baseball. Until the growth spurt started.
"One day we were at eye level," she said. "The next day I was talking to his chest."
Williams hasn't forgotten what it was like to be that 5-9 eighth-grader that nobody noticed.
"Most of the time [college recruiters] have people who are on the radar from the time they're in seventh, eighth grade," Williams said. "They're top 10 in their class, top 10 in their area. When you're little you want to see the rankings, all of that. You want to be able to brag to your friends. I was never that guy. I won't lie, I wanted to be that guy."
Chuck Torres is an assistant at La Mirada and he coached the JV. Torres said as a freshman, Williams was a "pretty goofy kid who didn't take anything too seriously, including basketball."
"I decided I was going to take where I was from and do something with it."
But by his sophomore year Williams was 6-6 and having some success. In February of Williams' sophomore year La Mirada played a Compton High School team led by DeMar DeRozan, currently a guard for the Toronto Raptors. Compton won, but Williams had a 23-point, 12-rebound game in front of Southern Cal coach Tim Floyd, who had come to scout DeRozan. That game got Williams a scholarship offer from USC.
But according to Torres, the light clicked on weeks before, in a game against El Toro. Torres had been working with Williams on his move to the basket for weeks -- catch the ball, one step, two, explode.
"A guy drove and drew his man," Torres said. "So he passed to Derrick. He caught it, one-twoed into it and tried to bang it out. But he missed the dunk, and we ended up losing on that missed dunk. That is the moment when he really started to work. I mean, really work. That's when we started putting a bottle cap in the door to the gym so we could sneak in at night after everybody else left."
The next week La Mirada played Artesia High, led by 6-10 current Mississippi State standout Renardo Sidney.
"That big guy was going to try to block all of Derrick's shots," Torres said. "And Derrick gave him 23 points, 14 rebounds. That's when it all fell into place."
Williams' work ethic, practicing late at night with Torres and some friends in the high school gym, was set.
"He's a basketball nerd," Torres said. "And he made all his friends and teammates basketball nerds, too."
La Mirada is not a basketball hot spot. And according to Torres, Williams' AAU team featured Jordan Hamilton, the Texas star drafted by Denver this summer.
"Hamilton was the No. 1 player on the West Coast," Torres said. "And Jordan just chucked it up. At the time I didn't want Derrick playing for that team -- he had to get an offensive rebound just to get a shot -- but it showed him how to do other things."
"I kept my head down and I went to work."
Ask Williams about an entourage and he looks at you as if you're speaking French. Entitlement? He calls people "sir."
"I'm always proving people wrong," said Williams, who is running out of people to doubt him. "I'm coming here, to Minnesota, to prove something."
Williams still wasn't a top 150 prospect coming out of high school, but Floyd coveted him. When Floyd quit in June of 2009, Williams asked for his release and ended up at Arizona. Wildcats coach Sean Miller was happy to have him, but didn't have him pegged as a star. That changed quickly. Arizona was in Maui for a tournament and Miller put Williams into the lineup against Wisconsin, a big, strong team coming off a 24-9 season the year before.
Williams scored 25 points, made 13 of 21 free throws and had eight rebounds. The eventual Pac-10 freshman of the year was off.
Fellow Wolves rookie Malcolm Lee played at UCLA. He became a believer, too.
"That year when we played them," Lee said, "he was killing it, just killing it."
But still, the work ethic. Miller said Williams came through the door like an eighth man starving for minutes and never changed.
"He always kept his ego in check," Miller said. "To me, that's what's going to carry him as an NBA player. Every team wants a player who is terrifically talented but also a hard worker. He wants to be good."
"I just said at one point I want to work out two or three times a day and see the progress each and every day."
As a sophomore, Miller said, Williams played for weeks with a broken bone in his shooting hand. It didn't slow him much. Williams improved in just about every area -- especially his outside shooting -- while becoming conference player of the year. But it was in the NCAA tournament where he cemented his name on draft boards, especially with his 32 points and 13 rebounds in an upset over No. 1 seed Duke in the Sweet 16.
Suddenly he wasn't underrated. But that hasn't changed him. This summer, Williams returned to Arizona to take two classes; he promised his mom he'd get a degree. And he will, he said, eventually.
"I'm just proud of the person he has become," Moore said. "I like him being a role model, being humble, working hard for his dreams. Just being himself."
Williams held youth camps at his old high school while waiting for the lockout to end. Once it did, he couldn't get here fast enough. After all, he's got a lot to prove.
"Like I said before, I kept my head down, I kept working," Williams said. "I kept pushing until I finally got here."
|Philadelphia - LP: K. Kendrick||2||FINAL|
|Washington - WP: J. Zimmermann||5|
|Baltimore - WP: C. Tillman||10||FINAL|
|Toronto - LP: S. Nolin||6|
|Minnesota - LP: S. Deduno||0||FINAL|
|Detroit - WP: A. Sanchez||6|
|Chicago Cubs - LP: S. Feldman||4||FINAL|
|Cincinnati - WP: B. Arroyo||7|
|Cleveland - LP: J. Masterson||1||FINAL|
|Boston - WP: J. Lackey||8|
|NY Yankees - WP: D. Phelps||9||FINAL|
|Tampa Bay - LP: R. Hernandez||4|
|Pittsburgh - LP: A. Burnett||1||FINAL|
|Milwaukee - WP: M. Estrada||2|
|Miami - LP: R. Webb||3||FINAL|
|Chicago WSox - WP: N. Jones||4|
|LA Angels - WP: J. Vargas||5||FINAL|
|Kansas City - LP: L. Hochevar||2|
|Oakland - WP: P. Neshek||6||FINAL|
|Houston - LP: J. Veras||5|
|San Diego - LP: E. Stults||2||FINAL|
|Arizona - WP: B. McCarthy||5|
|Texas||9||Bottom 9th Inning|
|Colorado - WP: T. Chatwood||5||FINAL|
|San Francisco - LP: T. Lincecum||0|