This is the fourth in a five-part recap of the 2009-10 Tiger basketball season.
• ELLIOT PHONES HOME
He may be only the second best Elliot to suit up for the Tigers, but the graduate of St. George’s absolutely rescued this team by transferring from Duke before his sophomore season. No one wants to benefit at the expense of a person’s health, but it’s hard to imagine where the 2009-10 Tigers would have gone had Williams’ mother not been diagnosed with cancer, had Williams not decided to come home to be near her. With a compassionate waiver of the NCAA’s transfer rules, Williams was immediately eligible to suit up for Josh Pastner. He wasted little time in making the team his own.
After scoring 19 points in his Memphis debut, Williams scored at least 20 in his next seven games, the longest such streak since Penny Hardaway did so in 12 straight during his All-America season of 1992-93. Had his jump shot at the buzzer against Kansas fallen on November 17th, the season would have been different for both programs. Instead, Williams had one of the finest seasons in Tiger history . . . slightly off the radar of the national media. He finished second in C-USA in scoring, averaging 17.9 points per game. His 610 points are second only to that other Elliot (Perry) among sophomores in Tiger history.
Williams scored 33 points in a narrow win at Southern Miss in early January and, two games later, lit up Rice for 32. He became an able distributor as well, dishing out at least six assists in six games. Simply put, he was the steadiest Tiger and the only one to start all 34 games. If there’s a blemish on his season — his shooting fell off over the season’s last three weeks — it’s likely due to Williams shouldering a larger load than a player of his size and experience should be expected to. As Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie had their own shooting struggles, teams figured out that the first step to knocking off Memphis was bottling up its top scorer. Had Williams not been one of nine from the field in the C-USA quarterfinals against Houston, the one-point loss almost certainly would have turned the Tigers’ way.
After the U of M’s season-ending loss to Ole Miss in the NIT, Williams indicated he’ll be back for the 2010-11 campaign. Adding the likes of Joe Jackson, Will Barton, and Jelan Kendrick —heralded recruits on their way to Memphis — around Williams would create a match-up nightmare for Tiger opponents. (It’s hard to imagine all four of these scorers slumping together.) DraftExpress.com currently projects Williams as a late first-round pick in the 2010 NBA draft. Whether or not his mother’s health concerns play a role, Williams will certainly consider the guaranteed money that would come should he indeed be a top-30 draft pick this summer.
Williams came home having built a reputation as a defensive stopper during his freshman season at Duke. (He started 12 games for the Blue Devils in 2008-09.) And it was the humility he seemed to retain as he became a scoring force that made the biggest impression on me. After scoring 23 against Tennessee Tech in his third game as a Tiger, I asked Williams about the role, and how he might adapt. “I wouldn’t say we have a go-to guy,” he said. “We’re just taking what we’re given. I had a good game, because I was out on the break a lot, and finished well.”
Here’s hoping for a smooth and complete recovery for Delois Williams. And here’s hoping we see her son as a junior next season.