Brad Underwood saw junior guard Da’Monte Williams lose confidence in his offensive game and reached a three-word conclusion on who is responsible for this
“I blame myself,” Underwood said. “I think it is about him knowing that his coach has confidence in him. I did a poor job with that last year, plain and simple.”
The third-year head coach looks at what he calls “his poor job” in getting the offensive potential out of the Peoria native who is the son of Frank Williams, the 2001 Big Ten Player of the Year and two-time All-American while a player at Illinois. In his 64 career games and 21 starts in an Illini jersey, Williams has only scored in double figures only four times and converted just 34 percent of his field goals last season. In his entire college career, Williams has never attempted more than nine shots and has only twice converted multiple three-point field goals in a game.
Underwood has diagnosed Williams’ issue being a confidence problem where he believes the wing player lost faith in his offensive game and his shot. From Jan. 23rd to the end of the season (15 games), Williams didn’t attempt more than three field-goal attempts and went scoreless in five of those games.
“I don’t think it was confidence and I didn’t lose faith but I didn’t seem to find a groove,” Williams said. “I don’t think if I miss a shot that I’m a bad player but finding my role has been difficult. That’s not the coaches’ fault. I feel like I’m in control of a lot of it out there. All of it is also about me maturing though too.”
Williams, because of his length and athleticism, has found consistent playing time (21.5 minutes per game last season) due to his high activity and value on the defensive end. However, In Underwood’s mind, this kind of offensive inaction by a player who was first-team Class 3A All-State selection by the Associated Press after his junior season at Peoria Manual High School simply can’t happen anymore. Underwood also stressed at the team’s media day on Oct. 11 that the fix for Williams is quick and easy.
“He’s got to know this season that yes, I’m running something to him (because) I believe in him,” Underwood said. “I trusted him to be on the court a lot and yet, I didn’t reciprocate that with the way I needed to by giving him some opportunities. I just let it flow within the course of a game.”
Williams’ two-year tenure at Illinois is the first time in his basketball career where he’s been stuck in neutral on the offensive end as he averaged 15.3 points, 5.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists as a junior, leading Manual to a third-place finish in IHSA Class 3A State Tournament. In his senior year, Williams was prime to be one of the state of Illinois’ top scorers by averaging 25.6 points through the first three games before suffering torn ACL injury on Dec. 2, 2016. Williams’ perimeter teammates say they’ve seen a more offensively aggressive and confident player enter this 2019-20 season as the junior looks to keep earning a starting role on this Illini team with preseason NCAA Tournament hype for the first time in several years.
“I go to him all the time and tell him ‘when your shot is there, knock it down’,” Illini point guard Ayo Dosunmu said. “That’s my job to pump him up sometimes and say to him (that) we want you to score. We’re running this (play) for you.”
Dosunmu, who has been challenged by Underwood to be much more vocal has been Williams’ biggest cheerleader this preseason in the hope that his offensive production will rise.
“I know guys like Ayo and Trent (Frazier), Alan (Griffin) and Giorgi (Bezhanishvili) and I’ve never doubted that,” Williams said. “Nobody on this team is selfish. So, if I’m feeling good and making my shots, yeah, I’ll be more aggressive. I’ve stopped myself more than anything.”
More than anything Williams’ stopping himself on the offensive end and becoming a productive two-way player is a major early-season mission for his head coach.
“He’s a good player. You run actions for good players and a major part of that is me selling that to him as a player,” Underwood said. “The fact is my job as a coach is getting Da’Monte to believe in a certain moment the basketball is coming to him right now because he’s a great option. I’ve done it this preseason in practice but I’ve got to translate that to games.”