Every young prospect who is burdened with the early high school hype develops differently and at their own pace.
The perfect case in point: Simeon’s D.J. Williams.
The 6-7 versatile wing came into high school with large expectations. He had size, skill and hype as a nationally rated player as a freshman. At Simeon, though, you typically wait your turn, even as a high-profile prospect.
This past season in his first game as a sophomore at the varsity level, Williams led Simeon in scoring and rebounding with 12 points and 9 boards in a win over Milton, Ga. in the Chicago Elite Classic. Although the season ended with a state championship, overall, Williams had a very modest sophomore campaign, averaging 4.3 points and 2.4 rebounds a game for the state champions.
Williams then struggled in the spring playing with Meanstreets on the AAU circuit. In early June he was part of the USA Men’s Basketball tryouts but didn’t make the cut. Then his stock among national — and even local — evaluators dipped.
While Williams was still a nationally-ranked player, the lofty status he once held as a top 10 or top 15 player had vanished. Despite the talent, Williams would seemingly get lost in the flow of the game. The Hoops Report remembers walking away from several spring performances waiting and wondering. The tools were all still there; the production and consistency, however, were non-existent.
“Part of it was getting accustomed to his Meanstreets team,” says Simeon coach Robert Smith.
The Meanstreets team Williams is playing with today is revamped and completely different than the one he played with in April and May.
“But the one thing that I think made a difference was when he didn’t make the U.S. National Team,” Smith points out. “Plus, people haven’t been talking about him like they have about others in that class. He’s been a changed player ever since. He took it all personally. He’s been in the gym, in the weight room and working on his game every day.”
Williams didn’t sulk or waste time criticizing others. He looked at his game, where he was at as a player and took it upon himself to change it. The work paid off quickly. Williams was ultra-impressive at the DePaul Team Camp in late June, and he’s been the player everyone envisioned he would be so far in July. His body, his game and his demeanor all look different than it did just a few months ago.
Williams’ body has filled out, adding weight, strength and muscle to a legit 6-7 frame that’s now just above 200 pounds. He’s more assertive and has shown a sense of urgency. And he’s playing with confidence and hard-to-find versatility for a player his size.
His talent, dimensions and upside leave you excited when projecting him two, three or four years down the road. That’s why Williams is among an impressive top three payers in the junior class in Illinois, which includes St. Rita’s Charles Matthews and Stevenson’s Jalen Brunson. Yes, Williams has to polish up his game, he needs more seasoning and his maturation must continue, but he’s gifted when it comes to all the impressive tools he possesses.
This is a 6-7 player with a very natural shooting stroke and range out to the three-point line. He handles the ball, has very good court vision and can lead the break. He can slash to the basket in transition or attack the rim in the half-court. He’s the prototype “point forward” who passes the eye test with smooth athleticism and great length.
Williams admits the national team snub and the slight drop in his individual rankings by the national experts did invigorate him.
“I remember when the ESPN rankings came out,” says Williams of seeing his name dropped to No. 32 in the country in the Class of 2015. “I remember hearing the critics. It motivated me. I just went back to work and worked on my game every day. My goal was to become a better basketball player.”
The recruitment of Williams, who will likely climb his way back up the national rankings – he’s No. 35 in Scout.com’s national rankings — is just beginning to gain steam. Illinois, DePaul and Providence have already offered Williams, while he says Michigan State, Kansas and Georgetown have been three schools that have yet to offer but have been very active of late.
“I don’t plan on doing anything soon,” says Williams. “I will probably wait until my senior year.”
His motivation now, however, is to keep Simeon’s state championship run alive.
“I want to win four straight state championships, too,” says Williams of his recently graduated Simeon teammates. “I know a lot of people are down on Simeon heading into this season because we lost Jabari [Parker] and Kendrick [Nunn], but that’s motivation for me.”
Williams has already proved personal motivation driven by skeptics can go a long way.
Follow Joe Henricksen and the Hoops Report on Twitter @joehoopsreport