Henricksen: DaMonte Williams now among state’s very best

SHARE Henricksen: DaMonte Williams now among state’s very best
SHARE Henricksen: DaMonte Williams now among state’s very best

Each and every event you attend on the high school club basketball circuit, you hope to come away with something new. Maybe it’s a fresh look at a player you haven’t seen play before or further confirmation on players you have seen.

This past weekend, while attending the Bill Hensley Memorial Run-N-Slam All-Star Classic in Fort Wayne, I came away with one definitive opinion: DaMonte Williams is the real deal.

The hype had been growing since the conclusion of his sophomore season at Peoria Manual. I’ve tried to tamp down the superlatives, simply because the small sample size from the Pontiac Holiday Tournament in December was still lingering. In four games at Pontiac he didn’t shoot it well (13 of 43 from the field) and had more turnovers than assists while averaging 11.5 points a game on 11 shots a game.

While watching the young Williams at that time, you could see talent and upside, you could see the physical make-up that made the 6-3 guard a potential top 10 prospect in the sophomore class. But there wasn’t anything that screamed “great one” at that time.

Ahhh, the joy of watching young basketball prospects develop physically and, maybe even more importantly, mentally; it’s always intriguing and different with every single player.

I watched Williams this past weekend and wondered to myself, “How is this the same Da’Monte Williams from four months ago?”

Williams had done enough to warrant a No. 7 ranking in the City/Suburban Hoops Report Class of 2017 player rankings that was released last month. He had done enough to solidify himself as a high-major basketball prospect. That’s some high praise for a player who is at the midway point of his high school career.

But I am blown away by the son of Frank Williams, the former Illinois prep legend from Manual who went on to star at Illinois and was the 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year.

I love his size and build as a 6-3 combo guard. And I love his game, one which gets you excited while watching and one that translates easily to the next level.

Usually you talk about combo guards who are listed and described as “combo guards” because they lack this or are missing that for each particular backcourt position. With Williams, it’s because he can play both with the ball in his hands and off the ball effectively.

His game is actually very reminiscent of his father’s game, though Frank probably had more of that pure point guard in him as he was more advanced in making those around him better.

Da’Monte Williams, though, is blessed as a combo guard prototype. With a pull-up, mid-range jumper that is reliable and difficult to defend, along with solid mechanics shooting the ball out to the three-point line, his perimeter shot is only going to get more consistent and become a bigger weapon. Plus, he just has that natural basketball presence and feel with the way he plays and carries himself. As an evaluator, he’s easy on the eyes and a player you don’t have to spend countless times watching and dissecting.

What’s been the biggest difference?

Williams is playing with a more consistent motor and assertiveness. It’s as if he has realized it’s his time to take things seriously and elevate himself to the level his physical talents allow him to.

And the area I really underestimated over the past year when watching him play is his athleticism. He’s a super athlete. Blessed with great strength and size for a combo guard, Williams has the combination of burst and power off the dribble to get by defenders and the athleticism to finish at the rim with impressive dunks and through contact.

There are always things to learn about individual prospects as they blossom into players. How hard do they work on their game? How badly do they want it? Do they have the ability to lift their games when it matters most? Do they have the fiery competitive streak that allows the ultra-talented ones to reach their ceiling?

All of that plays out over the course of a player’s high school career and continues to develop and emerge while in college for some.

At this early stage, however, Williams looks and plays the part. And when the Hoops Report’s updated, post-spring rankings are finalized, it’s impossible not to see Williams right there battling Stevenson’s Justin Smith for the No. 2 spot in the class, right behind East St. Louis big man Jeremiah Tilmon.

The City/Suburban Hoops Report will have additional coverage and thoughts from this weekend’s Run-N-Slam later this week.

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