March 19, 2011
TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Texas sophomore Jordan Hamilton has had a first-hand look at the progression of Arizona forward Derrick Williams.
The two first met as ninth-graders in La Mirada, Calif., as AAU teammates, with Hamilton already an established prep standout and Williams his understudy of sorts.
Hamilton remembers Williams as an undersized kid who thought he would develop into a guard in high school and college. The 6-foot-8 Pac-10 Player of the Year has blossomed into much more than that, averaging 19.2 points and 8.2 rebounds per game for Arizona this season.
"He definitely hit a growth spurt," Hamilton said. "I remember him sitting on the bench having to ice his knees because he was growing too fast. That was crazy.
"He's gotten a lot bigger. He looks like he's gotten a lot stronger also."
Hamilton will have the opportunity to see just how big and strong Williams has become Sunday night, when the No. 4 seed Longhorns and fifth-seeded Wildcats (28-7) meet in the NCAA tournament with a berth in the regional semifinals on the line.
Texas (28-7) won its tournament opener by holding off high-scoring Oakland 85-81 on Friday. Hamilton, the Longhorns' leading scorer, had 19 points and continued the stellar play that was expected of him in high school.
Hamilton's progression from prep standout to member of the Big 12 all-tournament team has come as no surprise to Williams, either. He watched Hamilton develop while playing on the same AAU team, and Williams was on the losing end against Hamilton when their high school teams met during their junior seasons.
"That's just how he is," Williams said. "He has that mentality. He has a killer instinct, and he wants to go for 40 every night."
The two became close away from basketball as well. They stayed at each other's houses during the summers and continued their relationship when they both left for college, talking or texting several times during the week.
They have put that relationship on hold since the brackets were announced and they saw the possibility of a third-round matchup. They'll continue that moratorium during Sunday night's game, though afterward the friendship will pick up where it left off.
"The one thing that's so different about today is I feel like every player on our team knows every player on the other team, just because of the way the travel teams are and that's organized," Arizona coach Sean Miller said. "So you have so much familiarity between players and back in the day when I played you didn't even talk to the other team.
"The guys, they know each other. They've played against each other and sometimes with each other."
It was during one of their conversations that Hamilton first told Williams about Texas' talented incoming freshman Tristan Thompson. Hamilton's early praise has proven prophetic, given the 6-foot-8 Thompson has averaged 13.4 points and 7.9 rebounds this season.
Thompson had 17 points, 10 rebounds and a career-high seven blocks in the Longhorns' win over Oakland, and it so happens that his matchup with Williams will likely prove one of the most critical on Sunday night.
"He's really lanky," Williams said. "He has long arms. He can jump out of the gym. That's what he brings. He likes to attack the rim.
"If you're in the way he's going to jump over you and dunk the ball."
Williams had 22 points and 10 rebounds in the Wildcats' opening win over Memphis, and his block with two seconds remaining sealed the win. In addition to his inside prowess, Williams is shooting 61 percent (36 of 59) on 3-pointers this season.
"Well, he's a great player," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "Great players can give it to you a lot of different ways, whether it's inside, outside, somewhere in between.
"He's a terrific player. There is no doubt you've got to know where he is at all times."
Hamilton plans on passing along advice about defending Williams to the rest of the Longhorns, Thompson in particular.
"I've got some tips for him," Hamilton joked. "I've definitely got some tips for him."