When former NBA forward Derrick Williams reached agreement on a deal with Bayern Munich in Germany this week, it symbolized his willingness to make a difficult choice that some professional athletes aren’t comfortable facing today: locating a new, unexpected path to his goal.
“This is actually my first time in Germany, but I can tell it’s going to be a great experience,” Williams told Def Pen Hoops in a phone interview from Croatia, where his team is set to play in a tournament this weekend. “I’ve been all over the country, all over the world playing basketball in my career. It’s another stop that’ll be a life-changing experience. That’s the reason why I’m playing. I love the game and the experiences.”
Williams, who was drafted second overall by the Timberwolves in 2011, has seven years of NBA experience under his belt. After playing two seasons at Arizona, he held stints with the Wolves, Kings, Knicks, Heat, Cavaliers and Lakers. He also held a brief tenure in the Chinese Basketball Association this year.
Despite working out for teams this summer, including the Celtics, Mavericks and Pistons, Williams didn’t receive the NBA offer he was seeking and moved on to sign with Bayern Munich. The opportunity to play in Germany enticed Williams for a variety of reasons.
“For one, they’re in the EuroLeague,” Williams told Def Pen Hoops. “That’s one of the best leagues in the world behind the NBA. My main goal at the end of the day is getting back to the NBA. I think everyone wants to be in the NBA, but sometimes you just have to take a different route.”
The route Williams chose — playing in one of the fiercest, most competitive leagues on the planet — could allow for future opportunities if he succeeds with Bayern Munich. The team is expected to formally announce the signing of the former NBA swingman in the coming days.
As a former No. 2 pick in the NBA, Williams understands the stigma surrounding his situation, but that didn’t deter his decision to sign in Germany. It’s no secret that lottery picks, particularly those drafted in the top five, have a nearly insurmountable level of pressure on their shoulders during their career. There’s an expectation for them to succeed. The fear of being labeled as a bust exists for most should they ultimately fail in their quests — just not for Derrick Williams.
“At the end of the day, you have to look at your situation,” Williams said. “I always bring up Isaiah Thomas — he was the 60th pick in our draft. He’s made a few All-Star Games, he did his thing in Boston. People like the underdog story. They don’t really like to see people up top winning, and at the end of the day, I’ve always been an underdog player. I’ve never been an ESPN top-100 pick, never been top-50 in California, I was never none of those.
“When people say, ‘Oh, he was the No. 2 pick, but he didn’t do this and that’, at the end of the day, I proved myself. I’m going to keep proving myself each and every day. I don’t have to prove my work to anybody else. I know what I have to do in order to keep continuing to push for my family, myself and the people surrounding me. As long as I’m giving 110 percent effort, everybody else’s opinion doesn’t matter to me.”
Williams remains an accomplished two-way player, with the 26-year-old now set to enter his eighth professional season. He’s held career-averages of 8.9 points, four rebounds and 20.7 minutes per contest in the NBA, shooting 43 percent from the floor and playing in over 100 games.
He used this offseason for reflection, focusing on improving his game from last season while zeroing in on two major categories: his 3-point shooting and his endurance. Next, Williams says, is figuring out how to use these two improved assets in his new opportunity overseas.
“If my mind is clear during games and I’m not thinking about how I’m tired, putting my hands on my knees or looking for a sub, I have more time to focus on the actual game,” Williams explained. “That’s what I wanted to do this summer, and I can’t wait to see how that turns out.”
For Derrick Williams, there’s a strong chance that he’ll one day make his return to the NBA. But for the time being, his focus remains entirely on his team, competing in the EuroLeague and going back to what made him a No. 2 pick out of college to generate buzz in his services again.
“Obviously the NBA is still the ultimate goal,” Williams said. “In my current situation it’s just not there, but who says it won’t be there next year? That’s my main focus, just trying to get better and going back to the basics. And whenever I do get that next opportunity to come back to the NBA, I need to be 100 percent ready in every aspect.
“With this year, and with last year as well, it’s really just eye-opening,” Williams continued, “and it’s really just trying to get back to the basics and get back to where I know I belong.”