The Dish, aka The Assist. It’s my favorite part of the game because it’s the most philanthropic. While most casual observers appreciate the dudes that can get buckets, my informal education as a New York City playground point guard stipulated that I acknowledge, comprehend and cherish the brilliance of the pass that led to the basket, as well as players with an innate ability to make others better.
And right about now, Deron Williams seems to stand head and shoulders above every point guard in the league.
With Utah’s injury list resembling that of a mobile armed forces surgical hospital, D-Will propped the Jazz up in their surprising 114-111, Game 2 victory over Melo and the Nuggets. He finished with 33 points and 14 assists, while bullying his way into 18 free throw attempts. He ran his team flawlessly, controlling the game’s pace and flow as if orchestrating the action via joystick.
The one undeniable factor in Williams’ brilliance is his toughness, which has been part of his personal make-up since the shorty days. Deron was a Texas state wrestling champion in elementary and middle school.
At The Colony High School, the pass-first floor general was often overlooked. His teammate Bracey Wright, who went on to play college ball at Indiana, was the more celebrated player. While the college recruiters were pushing Williams aside to get in his friend’s ear, he used those perceived slights as fuel.
“It motivated me a lot to see the attention Bracey was getting,” Williams told the Dallas Morning News in ‘07. “He deserved it, but at the same time, I wanted that same attention. It made me work harder. It made me want it a lot more.”
In addition to Wright, other area players received the lion’s share of accolades and attention. Lincoln’s Chris Bosh and Cedar Hill’s Daniel Horton joined Wright as participants in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American game, which D-Will watched at home. Garland High School’s Ike Diogu was another high profile talent. Plenty of locals also insisted that Bryan Hopkins, Bosh’s teammate on Lincoln’s mythical national championship team, was the area’s best and most exciting point guard.
As a freshman at Illinois on ‘02-’03, Williams started 30 of the team’s 32 games, averaging six points and five assists. As a sophomore, he upped the ante by averaging 14 points and six dimes, earning First Team, All-Big Ten honors.
But it was his junior year where his brilliance received full recognition on a national scale. He led the Illini through an undefeated campaign, until they finally took an L in the regular season finale against Ohio State.
The one unforgettable image I have of Illinois’ run to the National Championship game was the Elite Eight battle against Arizona. That contest was one of the greatest and most exciting games in the history of March Madness.
Williams, Dee Brown, Luther Head and the remainder of the Fighting Illini crew staged a furious fifteen-point comeback in the game’s final minutes. Deron hit a game tying three at the close of regulation and the go ahead long distance bucket in overtime.
In the 75-70 title game loss to the North Carolina crew of Raymond Felton, Sean May, Jackie Manuel, Marvin Williams, Melvin Scott, Rashad McCants and Jawad Williams, Deron fought the good fight with 17 points, seven assists and four boards. With Illinois down by 15 in the second half, Williams again led his team back into contention, but Luther Head’s three-point attempt, which would have tied the score with seconds remaining, missed the mark.
Despite the crushing defeat, D-Will left no doubt that his talent would ever be glossed over again. The Jazz selected him with the third overall pick in the NBA draft after that stellar junior season.
After his All-Rookie season, he was handed the keys to John Stockton’s point guard kingdom by his notoriusly tough coach, Jerry Sloan. The Jazz proceeded to bolt out of the gate with a 12-1 start. Not even the great teams of Stockton and Malone ever got off to that type of start. In January, he dropped 31 on the Pistons. A few days later, he dished out 21 assists against the Grizzlies. Utah finished 51-31, winning the division title. The Jazz were back in the playoffs after a three year absence.
Williams closed out the Houston Rockets in Game 7 of their first round series in Super Star fashion with a supreme, first game 7 appearance, double-double of 20 points and 14 assists. He went on to lead Utah into the Western Conference Finals, a place the franchise had not been since ‘98.
Despite falling to the incomparable Tim Duncan and the San Antonio Spurs, defender extraordinnaire Bruce Bowen was among the many that were impressed by the young fella’s accomplishments.
“That’s what’s missing today in the NBA is solid point guards,” said Bowen. “You have the scoring guards, you have guards that can’t do some things. With him, it’s special because he spent that time in college and learned more and more about the game of basketball. So he goes to a team that really needs a great point guard and he just fits the mold of a young Stockton.”
Some of his accomplishments in his short career compare to some all-time greats. Dude already has four 20 assist games. Nash is the only active cat that can claim that.
For all of those folks in Texas that slept on him in high school, he exacted some form of revenge while copping the Gold Medal with the Redeem Team in the ‘08 Beijing Olympics and appearing in this year’s All-Star bonanza at the sparkling new Texas Stadium.
Oh, and the 33 point, 14 assist gem the other night in game 2? Yo, that was on the road! And the only other Jazz player to go over 30 and 10 in the playoffs was the incomparable Stockton.
His team might be undermanned and limping through this year’s playoffs, but by now, it should be clear to never underestimate the brilliance and elevating factor of D-Will. And the cat is just getting started.