When Elliot Williams first arrived on the Duke University campus back in 2008, the dreams of potential glory that surround any five-star hoops recruit were magnified for the Cameron Crazies. Coach Mike Krzyzewski‘s Blue Devils hadn’t advanced past the Sweet Sixteen in four years, and the elusive National Championship trophy hadn’t found its way to Durham since 2001. Williams was going to help change all that; fresh off a disappointing second-round exit in the tourney, the Duke Blue Devils had potentially found their missing spark in the 6-4 shooting guard out of Tennessee. Two years later, Duke has its National Championship, but all Williams has are hopes for an NBA career.
Williams didn’t exactly light the world on fire in that first season at Cameron Indoor. Playing on a team loaded with veterans, Williams was relegated to the bench for the entire first half of the season. Coach K, apparently impressed with the youngster in his limited action, inserted the lefty into the starting line-up for a February match-up with Saint John’s. Williams responded with an inspiring performance, recording 11 points in the victory and securing his spot in the starting five for the remainder of the year. The Blue Devils would go on to win the ACC Tournament, but even Williams could not help end the school’s championship drought, as the #3-seed Villanova Wildcats thrashed the #2-seed Blue Devils in a Sweet Sixteen blowout.
As Duke fans pondered the depressing thought of life after Gerald Henderson, the news of Elliot Williams’ decision to transfer came as an off-season shock in early June. Sure, the freshman had only averaged a little over four points in his first year, but he had displayed flashes of athleticism that earned him the reputation as a brilliant playmaker. With his mother growing increasingly sick, Williams was transferring back home to spend more time with his family. He finally decided to join the University of Memphis, a school located only 16 miles away from his home in Collierville, Tennessee.
With the Tigers’ program in turmoil after former coach John Calipari‘s departure, and facing the defection of multiple recruits and NCAA probation, Williams helped calm the storm in Memphis. If the 20-year-old’s start to the year at Duke was a disappointment, his opening stretch at Memphis was anything but. After receiving a deserved hardship transfer waiver clearing him of a mandatory redshirt year, Williams ripped off 20-point performances in nine of his first eleven games as a Tiger, including 21 in a two-point loss at Kansas. Over the team’s 32 regular season games, Williams would record double digits in a whopping 30 of them, including six games with over 25 points. The Tigers finished the regular season at an impressive 23-9, and Williams had undoubtedly proven himself the team’s most valuable player by season’s end.
After a first-round bust in the Conference-USA Tournament against upstart Houston, the Tigers made a trip to the NIT, where they only advanced to the second round. Williams had a rough post-season stretch, including only a ten-point showing in the Houston loss and only a 12.5 average in the team’s two NIT games. After Williams ripped through the regular season, it’s safe to say that coaches had been given sufficient time to detect the budding star’s weaknesses. Though his lackluster finishing ability with his right hand has hurt him more than any other aspect of his game, his athleticism, quickness and ability to defend undoubtedly rank him among this draft’s crop of elite guards.
And though he has no trophy to his name, forced instead to watch his former Duke teammates from his home in Tennessee, Williams has undoubtedly proven himself as a player and person. The Tiger will likely hear his name called by David Stern on June 24th, and, even more likely, he will turn heads at training camp with whichever NBA team he ends up joining. And for all the magic he missed in Durham this year, it might very well be Williams who helps lead his team to a trophy sooner rather than later.
What do you think? Where will Williams be drafted?
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