By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
You are going to like Devin Williams.
Listen up to what he had to say on Wednesday during West Virginia University basketball interviews at the Coliseum while preparing for Friday’s 8 p.m. season opener against Mount St. Mary’s.
“I know there’s not a player in the country that can guard me one-on-one down there as far as I can do,” he said.
Did we mention, Devin Williams is a freshman and has yet to play his first collegiate basketball game?
Oh, did we also mention that he scored four points on Friday night, making one basket against Fairmont State.
Did that worry this rather confident young lad from Cincinnati?
Not in the least.
“The offensive game, I think that is going to take care of itself. That just happened to be an exhibition game, and I was just going out there to see how many rebounds I could grab,” he said.
The box score showed the 6-foot-9 Williams was rather proficient at that, listing him with 14.
“They said I had 14, but I counted 15,” he corrected, not at all kidding about it.
And no, that he picked off 15 rebounds didn’t surprise him one iota.
“I wasn’t surprised. I played at Montverde Academy, and we had some real good talented guys, top in the country, and getting a chance to play with them and getting the feeling of what it’s like to have to work and seeing it pay off, I’ve been doing it. It’s no problem,” he said.
And that last statement is the tipoff about why, as confident as this freshman is, you are going to have trouble finding him hard to stomach.
See, he understands that you have to work to be good, and he’s willing to work really hard at it because he’s so strongly driven to succeed.
Asked if his goals this year are to be in the top 10 or 15 in rebounding, he didn’t think much of that.
“No. 1,” he answered. “Everything I do I do to be No. 1. I want to be known in the Big 12 or in the country for being a hard-working freshman who has a motor and is tough.”
You can’t knock that.
And because of this attitude, he isn’t even intimidated by coach Bob Huggins, who jumped him pretty good during the Fairmont State game when he allowed his man an easy basket.
“For me, sometimes it might get to me, but for the most part you take what he’s trying to say,” Williams said. “That’s more important than the volume of his voice. When he’s hollering at me, like when I let that guy score the other night, he was like ‘This is major college basketball! This is major college basketball!’
“I’m taking it in like, ‘This is major college basketball.’ He isn’t trying to downgrade me. It’s just criticism. It’s good stuff. He’s trying to help you. When he’s yelling at you, you’ve got to respect it because he knows what he’s talking about because he’s been around for 30-some years.”
That is wisdom beyond freshman years, wisdom to go with the talent he possesses.
Williams understands that WVU is shorthanded with only nine scholarship players and that it’s really short up front.
“He’s just told me I’ve got to hit the boards. I guess that means 10-plus every night. I think I will contribute a lot on the offensive side, though. That will take care of itself because I’ve got Wannie (Juwan Staten) and Eron (Harris) and Terry (Henderson) and a lot of threats on the perimeter,” he said.
“They are going to have to guard them. After a while, they will have to pick their poison. I’ll let the offense handle itself. I’ll just try to get 10-plus boards every night.”
That will be approaching it like it’s major college basketball.
Someone asked Williams if there was a difference between a guy who can rebound and a guy who wants to rebound, probing to see if Williams believed that the desire to do the job is more important that the ability.
Again, his answer wasn’t what you expected to hear from a kid.
“It’s all one. Like Huggs says, it’s what you want to do. If you want to go get that rebound, go get it.
“I want to score. I just want to rebound more and improve on defensive skills. It’s going to happen.
“It’s going to be tough, bumps and bruises along the way, because I’m a freshman and I’m still learning, but at the end of the day I feel like I’m going to keep getting better,” he said.
And don’t be fooled if Williams sounds a little me-first in some of the things he says.
“If I help myself individually, it will help the team,” he said.
And, believe it or not, he is a team-first guy, but one with vision like any kid that comes to college toward his future, but while a lot of academic kids are looking for an MBA in their futures, he’s looking for the NBA.
“Like I said, there’s going to be some ups and downs, but this is where I’m going to get my money,” he said. “Someday I want to play in the league. I have to deal with a little hard stuff. I don’t mind. I don’t mind. Guys are doing dirty work and getting paid millions to do it in the league.”
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.