Wichita State guard Demetric Williams plays some of his best basketball when he isn’t noticed by anyone other than coaches and teammates.
Williams, a junior from Las Vegas, has started three straight games and played 24 or more minutes in each. He played a season-high 32 in Tuesday’s win over Illinois State. His scoring numbers are solid, but overshadowed by bigger numbers from teammates. He made a crucial shot late in the game, one that got overlooked when the game got closer and other Shockers came through.
That is fine with Williams, who learned that defense and smart ball-handling will keep him on the court. He usually plays sticky defense and his turnovers go down when he plays under control and blends into the offense. Those are the reasons WSU coach Gregg Marshall is leaning on Williams more and more in recent games.
“He can play very inspired basketball when he has his heart and his head in the right place,” Marshall said. “Lately, he’s had both in exactly the right places.”
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Willliams entered the starting lineup against Evansville on Jan. 4, a reaction to sloppy defense in a loss to Creighton. Marshall doesn’t spend much time worrying about starters, but in this case he sent a message by bringing seniors David Kyles and Toure Murry off the bench. Murry has since returned to the starting lineup, alongside Williams and Joe Ragland in the backcourt. That look gives WSU three quick defenders who can make life tough on opposing guards. Williams can keep up with small guards and is physical enough to guard bigger players.
“My defense is what is getting me a lot of minutes,” Williams said. “After (the Creighton game), the next practice he was letting everybody know that the guys that play defense are going to get that opportunity.”
Willams gets another chance to play his under-stated, yet important, role tonight against Bradley (5-12, 0-5 Missouri Valley Conference) at Koch Arena. WSU (13-3, 4-1) routed the Braves 90-51 on Dec. 28, handing them their worst home loss in 108 seasons and worst in 60 seasons of Valley play. Since that loss, Bradley hasn’t lost by more than 11 points and Marshall will let his team know the Braves are improving.
“We remind them that they remember that game, too,” Marshall said. “They’re Division I athletes with pride in their program and an excellent coach. I anticipate them trying to do something different, but I have no idea what that’s going to be.”
Marshall doesn’t want Williams to change a thing from his recent efforts.
Like many players, Williams came to college expecting to score. Sometimes he did. Sometimes he didn’t. He started once as a freshman and as a sophomore. His playing time fluctuated last season, until he found a groove in the National Invitation Tournament. Along the way, he figured out that focusing on defense would pay off. Some players never get over their reliance on scoring as a measure of their worth. Williams did. After some stops and starts, he accepted a role that values defense and running the offense over scoring.
“There are a lot of people on our team that can score the ball and a lot of people that want to score,” he said. “I don’t look at that. I don’t try to dominate the ball or look for my shot. My biggest thing is just winning and making it to the (NCAA) tournament.”
Williams is one of the fastest Shockers, which makes him valuable running the fast break. When he gets going too fast, however, problems arise. He turned the ball over too much early in the season. In five MVC games, he has 12 assists and three turnovers. Williams has made an effort to fit into the offense and not freelance, which can result in bad shots, bad passes or charging fouls.
“He taking care of the ball,” Marshall said. “He’s not making risky decisions, trying to go too fast.”
Don’t get the impression Williams can’t move the scoreboard numbers. He scored 11 points against Southern Illinois and nine against Illinois State. In his three recent starts, he made 9 of 13 shots. The one that stands out is a high, floating jumper from the baseline that momentarily slowed an Illinois State rally in the second half.
“When my opportunity comes, I’m going to take my shot,” he said. “I’m not out there standing in the corner, not ready to shoot it. I’ve been here for three years, so I know when I’m going to be able to score. I’m just trying to work through the offense.”