A year after chips were stacked against him, ex-Wildcat Brandon Williams finding his place with Portland | National | #schoolshooting | #sextrafficing | #childsaftey

LAS VEGAS — Last summer at this time, Brandon Williams was uncertain about his basketball fate.

A year later, the former Arizona Wildcats point guard is leading the Portland Trail Blazers at NBA Summer League at Thomas and Mack Center. Williams averaged 14.5 points and 3.5 assists in 27.5 minutes in Portland’s first two games, as it beat Detroit and New Orleans.

“It’s been well,” Williams told the Star. “It’s my first Summer League, and it’s exactly what I expected it to be. Guys out here are playing hard and trying to compete for a job, so I’m just coming in here and doing my job, coming up and down the court and getting guys in the right spot and hopefully win some games.”
Things haven’t always worked out so well for the former All-Pac-12 Freshman Team selection. He had a major knee surgery — his second overall — for a congenital issue, also known as osteochondritis dissecans, stemming from his high school career that sidelined the Los Angeles-area native for his sophomore season with the Wildcats in 2019-20. Arizona finished the season 21-11, with a win over Washington in the Pac-12 Tournament, before the COVID-19 pandemic abruptly canceled all sports.

“It was hard. I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t. We weren’t the normal Arizona team, so I was just sitting there and trying my best to give guys like Nico (Mannion) and Josh (Green) anything I could from the sideline,” Williams said. “That’s some of the stuff that (Portland’s Anfernee Simons) is doing. (Damian Lillard) is doing it as well. You just give everything you can, because they know how it’s been from a mental standpoint.”

Then-Arizona guard Brandon Williams drives to the basket against Cal Poly in a November 2018 game. Williams averaged 11.4 points per game that year, in his only season on the court with the Wildcats.

Added Williams: “I was never physically hurt. It was just, like, every now and then it would flare up and my knee would be swollen, so I just stayed level-headed and kept playing every single day. One day it would be swollen, then next it wouldn’t. That was the most frustrating part, because I never felt pain.”

Rather than returning to Arizona for another season, Williams opted to turn pro. Williams was replaced by All-Pac-12 guard James Akinjo, who later transferred to Baylor after Sean Miller was fired as head coach. Disappointed by the results of his career at the UA, Williams said playing for the Wildcats “was a growing stage of my life.”

“If it wasn’t for Arizona, I don’t know where I’d be right now. Arizona taught me a lot of life lessons, especially on the court, but definitely off the court, with all the ups and downs I went through,” Williams said. “I just tried to stay level-headed. It made me the man I am today.”

Technically, he’s right. With the 6-foot-2 Williams sitting out for two-plus years, the most recent highlights he had were from his time at Arizona. A widely-known injury and not playing competitive basketball for a while stacked the chips against Williams during the pandemic-influenced 2020-21 season.

“That year was crazy. I was just working out, staying in shape and doing everything I could. … I just stayed level-headed and always knew to prepare for what’s coming,” Williams said.

Despite getting passed over in the G League draft, Williams was signed to a deal with the Westchester Knicks, where he averaged 17.7 points, 4.5 assists, and 1.9 steals per game.

Then “the phone call” happened.

Pelicans Trail Blazers Basketball

Portland’s Brandon Williams shoots against New Orleans on Saturday night. The former Arizona guard is averaging 14.5 points and 3.5 assists per game in NBA Summer League.

In December 2021, while the NBA was experiencing coronavirus issues league-wide, Williams signed a 10-day contract, but didn’t make his official NBA debut until February of this year, when he signed a two-year, two-way contract worth $500,000 per season. The contract expires next summer.
“It says a lot about him as a person, with the adversity he’s had to go through,” Blazers Summer League head coach Steve Hetzel said. “To be able to work and get himself back to this level — he’s a high-level player.”

The 22-year-old averaged 12.9 points, 3.9 assists and 3.1 rebounds in 24 games this past season with Portland.

Since joining the Trail Blazers, Williams has acquired tidbits of advice and pointers from star guard Lillard, who signed a two-year, $122 million extension with Portland earlier this week.

“He’s a top-75 player of all time,” Williams said of Lillard. “I think I’d be crazy if I don’t take anything away from him. He’s a true professional at his craft every single day in the gym. Either he’s coming in or I’m leaving the gym. He comes to work every day and he preaches to the young guys, ‘1% better every day,’ and that resonates. It starts with me, then I’m going to lead down to the younger guys in Shaedon (Sharpe) and Jabari (Walker). (Lillard) is kind of like the head of the snake and it just trickles down.”

Lillard and fellow backcourt mate Simons have often had constructive conversations with Williams on the court during dead-ball moments.

“They were talking to me before the game, like, ‘Take your time, slow down,’ small things like that; how to read a defense, small things they see on the court. Obviously, there are things that even normal fans see that I don’t see,” Williams said.

Hetzel’s message to Williams: “Just get in the paint and be aggressive from there. The coaching staff has a real trust in me and vice versa,” Williams said. “I gotta trust my guys to make the right decision rather than have me score. I feel like today I did a really good job of that compared to my first game.

“I want to be a better leader. I know I can score and do all of those things, but I just want to make the right plays and make the right decisions.”

Maybe the best decision he’s ever made was committing to his lifestyle as a professional basketball player — or as he called it, “It’s a dream come true.”

“What I’ve been through over the last few years, I don’t want to get emotional, but it’s been a hell of a ride,” Williams said. “I didn’t know if I was ever going to play again. That was just hard itself mentally. Physically, I was always ready, but I never got the chance.

“For Joe Cronin and Coach Chauncey (Billups) to give me that chance, and I’m here on this stage talking to you, it’s incredible. I still can’t believe it.”

Rim shots

Former Wildcat Bennedict Mathurin and the Indiana Pacers fell 103-96 to the Sacramento on Sunday at Cox Pavilion. Mathurin had 15 points on 6-for-16 shooting from the field and three rebounds in 28 minutes. Ex-Arizona guard Gabe York recorded six points on two made 3-pointers, four assists and two turnovers in 13 minutes.

Former Arizona wing Dalen Terry, the No. 18 pick in the first round of the draft, and the Bulls got clobbered 101-69 by the Knicks on Sunday. Terry had 13 points on 3-for-7 shooting. He made all six free throws he took, to go with three assists, one rebound and seven turnovers.

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