Neatness and order are important to Wichita State guard Demetric Williams, so much so he jokes it is a borderline compulsion for him.
His T-shirts are folded and divided by color in his closet at home. His Koch Arena locker is the neatest in the room, with knee braces folded, watch and wallet stacked on a shelf, clothes hanging precisely and practice gear draped over the chair.
“One time I came to my locker and my shoes were not in the right spot,” he said. “I was yelling ‘Who was by my locker and moved my shoes?’ Everything has got to be where I put it, in the right order.”
There are times when Williams doesn’t mind making a mess, always one that somebody else needs to fix. When the Shockers are at their best, it is Williams leading a frenzied defense with his quickness and sticky hands. It reminds older brother Thomas Harris of growing up in Las Vegas, when Williams would invade Harris’ room and create disorder.
“As a kid, he was messy,” Harris said. “We would always fight, because I would say ‘I cleaned my room and you come in here and play touch football in my room. It’s not a football field. You’re knocking everything over.’ ”
Williams is one of four Shocker seniors who will play their final home game Wednesday against Evansville (16-13, 8-8 Missouri Valley Conference). WSU (24-5, 12-4) can clinch a share of the Valley title with a win. Should second-place Creighton lose at Bradley on Wednesday, WSU can win it outright.
The fact WSU is in this position is a tribute to Williams and the other seniors — forward Carl Hall, center Ehimen Orukpe and guard Malcolm Armstead. When the Shockers lost three in a row, coach Gregg Marshall put the season on the seniors and told them their legacy hung in the balance. Williams, WSU’s lone four-year senior, made contributions nobody else could because of his length of service. He talked more in the locker room and in practice. He played hurt, dealing with a bruised hip. Marshall calls him totally focused during games, always making eye contact and giving full attention to instruction. WSU is 5-0 since Marshall put the four seniors in the starting lineup, and 40 minutes from winning back-to-back MVC titles.
“There are times in his career when he’s been distant,” Marshall said. “These last several weeks, he has been engaged and locked in — the term I use is ‘In a great place.’ He’s tremendous playing his role.”
The three-game losing streak in late January and early February hit Williams in ways it couldn’t hit the other seniors. He owns 105 wins, more than any other Shocker in program history. More than anybody else in the locker room, he understood the sacrifices made to climb to the top of the Valley the past four years. The losses to Indiana State, Northern Iowa and Southern Illinois pushed him out of his comfort zone. He became the team spokesman, always telling people the Shockers expected to win the conference title and he didn’t want that standard to slip.
“He was kind of playing along since we were winning,” freshman guard Fred VanVleet said. “Then we hit that streak of three games and he said ‘Wait a minute. I haven’t lost too many.’ It hit home for him. He’s definitely stepped it up since then.”
Williams played as a freshman and sophomore, but it took until his junior season for him to thrive. He started 23 games and earned Marshall’s trust by playing under control, eliminating turnovers and excelling on defense.
“He found his niche and really does a great job helping his team win,” Marshall said. “His greatest strength is also, sometimes, his greatest weakness, and that is his competitive nature. He really likes to compete. Sometimes, it gets to be a little too much and it gets in his way — but rarely.”
Williams also sees his junior year as a turning point in school. As a freshman and sophomore, he was happy to get by. When an academic adviser went out of her way to praise him for an acceptable grade on a paper his junior year, he questioned the compliment, asking “Would you praise (former Shocker) Garrett Stutz for that grade?” Williams no longer wanted to be treated like an athlete who couldn’t be trusted to do his homework. He wanted to be treated like a student, one who could take responsibility and didn’t expect people to celebrate him doing the basics.
“I felt like it was something I was supposed to do, so it’s not something I’m supposed to get praised on because I did good this one time,” he said. “It’s something I’ve got to keep doing. I’m supposed to come here to get my education. I’m supposed to do good in school. When I was a freshman and sophomore, I probably would have been happy. It’s part of growing up.”
Williams isn’t sure how he will handle his emotions running out of the Koch Arena tunnel for a final time. Harris will watch his first Shocker game, along with other family on Wednesday. As he accompanied Williams to weights and watched practice Tuesday, he often heard Williams talk about the realization his time in Koch Arena’s gyms, locker rooms and weight rooms is drawing to a close.
“I’m excited, I’m anxious,” Williams said. “I’m also a little sad that my four years came so fast. All the other seniors told me it was going to be come by so fast. I’m just so blessed and happy that I’ve ben able to finish my four years healthy and been able to turn this program around.”