By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Devin Williams, the West Virginia University freshman, is sitting in the seats behind the baseline down at the end of the Coliseum where the weight room is, his trademark goggles flipped up on his forehead.
He’s surrounded by a group of media midgets, at least by comparison to what he will be surrounded by at 4 p.m. today when he’s out there on the floor facing Oklahoma State.
Questions are being tossed to him about the same way Juwan Staten will be tossing him the basketball down low, and he’s handling them as deftly as he handles one of Staten’s entry passes.
Most everyone is caught up in the answers, but as I stand there in front of him I take a peek down at his sneakers and do a double take. OK, he’s a big guy, 6-9 or so, which makes him in need of a sturdy foundation, but this is ridiculous.
“Man, what size sneakers you wearing?” I ask.
He isn’t embarrassed by answering.
“Eighteen,” he says.
Eighteen? You could put two of my feet into one of his shoes and probably have room left over for a double layer of Dr. Scholl’s.
This is a true man-child.
He’s so much of man child that just minutes earlier his coach, Bob Huggins, was offering comparisons to two of his greatest big men at Cincinnati, Kenyon Martin and Danny Fortson, both All-Americans.
Now, before Williams’ head swells to the size of his feet, let us understand that Huggins was not saying Williams is in their class, only that he possesses potential to reach such heights.
“He’s more productive now than Kenyon was, but he’s not close to as productive as Fortson was,” Huggins said, thinking back to the three of them as freshmen. “He’s probably rebounded as well as them.”
Williams has an advantage over Martin, who probably would have led Cincinnati to an NCAA championship his final year if he hadn’t broken a leg in the conference tournament.
“Kenyon was more athletic, but didn’t play that much as a freshman,” Huggins noted. “Devin is more like Fortson, but he can’t score like Danny could. Danny could really score the ball.”
Fortson averaged 15 points as a freshman, 20 and 21 in his other two years at Cincinnati before embarking on an 11-year NBA career. Martin averaged 10 points a game his first two years with the Bearcats and 19 his third with 10 rebounds a game.
Williams is averaging 10 points and eight rebounds a game this year.
Huggins actually believes a better comparison is to WVU’s Kevin Jones, because Williams really hasn’t been a back-to-the-basket big man like Fortson or Martin were.
“Devin never played much with is back to the basket. He has better ball skills than Danny had, better than K.J. had. He can shoot more consistent from mid-range,” Huggins said.
“He has a chance to be a very good player. He’s getting almost eight rebounds a game as a freshman. If that continues to improve, he’ll have big rebounding numbers.”
How does Williams picture himself two years down the road?
“I don’t think like that, two or three years ahead,” he said. “I try to take it game by game.”
But he realizes he is off to a big rebounding start and has seen himself improving day by day, game by game.
“I’ve improved most because I’m playing longer,” he said, thinking back to how tough it was on him when he came out of Cincinnati to his first practice at WVU.
“When I first walked through the door and went to practice I was dog tired, tongue-hanging-out, I-need-water kind of thing. It’s still kind of like that some days, but it’s getting a lot better,” he said.
Because of that he’s growing as a player.
“I think more people are trusting more in what I do and the shots I take. As a team we’re starting to trust each other,” he said.
“I’m becoming more of a leader, not from the front of the pack. The upperclassmen are at the front of the pack, but I’m trying to lead from behind and do the things like grab some rebounds,” he added.
One thing is certain, though.
When his career is over at WVU, someone is going to have some very big shoes to fill.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.