Friday, October 15, 1999

XU's Williams can't wait to get back on court




BY MICHAEL PERRY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Darnell Williams stopped getting on a scale once he hit 225 pounds last winter. Xavier teammates were calling him “doughboy.” Unable to play because of a knee injury that postponed his senior season, Williams grew out of shape and 30 pounds beyond his listed playing weight.

        Now he wants the last laugh.

        The fifth-year senior returns for a final season as a Musketeer — which begins with tonight's Midnight Madness activities and really gets going with Saturday's first official workouts.

        “I'm actually excited for once that practice is starting,” the 6-foot-5 shooting guard said. “I can't believe it. Let everybody know to enjoy the ride. It'll be fun.”

        His last Xavier game was 19 months ago, an NCAA Tournament loss to Washington. His last organized game was in June 1998 in Italy. Williams, playing for an NIT All-Star team, landed after going for a layup and heard his right knee pop. He tore the anterior cruciate ligament.

        He desperately wanted to play last season, but his knee was never close to ready. Unable to finish his career with classmates Lenny Brown, James Posey and Gary Lumpkin, Williams — who got his degree in May — was bitter when the school year ended.

        After going home to Brooklyn, N.Y., in late June, he developed a new outlook.

        “I was still bumming, but I turned the page when I went home,” Williams said. “Maybe everything happens for a reason. Who knows what could've went down last year? It could've gone worse than it did or it could've been better. But you can't worry about that.

        “A part of me still misses them, but this is my time to step up and shine. As a player, you want it to be your show, your team, where you can voice your opinion and call some shots.”

        Williams is down to a lean 203 pounds after a summer of swimming and playing pickup basketball.

        One night last month, he couldn't sleep. Williams drove to Schmidt Fieldhouse, got a ball out of his trunk and went to practice shooting. It was close to 2a.m.

        After a short time, he said, campus security showed up. Apparently, he had set off some alarms.

        His knee has been swollen and sore after some preseason conditioning, and occasionally he has to take a break. That may be an ongoing issue.

        “Some days you've just gotta play through it,” Williams said. “I'm not really nervous.”

        The question is this: Can Williams return as the same player he was during his junior season, when he led XU in scoring (17.3 ppg) and was perhaps the team's most consistent player and best three-point shooter (44.8 percent)?

        His jump shot continues to get better. But what always made Williams so dangerous was his ability to drive to the basket. His favorite weapon is what he calls the “tear drop,” a high-arcing shot lofted over taller inside players.

        Only in the last three weeks, he said, has he played aggressively during pickup games with XU teammates, driving to the basket against the 6-9 and 6-10 centers with “reckless abandon.”

        “It just came by second nature,” he said. “I made a move and went to the hole.

        “I'm challenging the big boys, and they're getting kind of upset, because my floater's dropping now.”

        He will demand no less of himself. Williams aspires to play in the NBA and expects to come back and have an even better season than in 1997-98. “Everybody saw I can score the basketball,” Williams said of his junior year. “There's a lot of pressure to get back there, but I'm putting a lot of pressure on myself to get beyond that, because I feel that I have the potential to do that.”

        He is coming back from a knee injury for the second time in his career, though this is more severe. Williams had surgery in April 1997 after hurting his left knee midway through his sophomore season.

        The fact that he rebounded to have such a successful junior year encourages him now. “I just want to bring back that fire and emotion that I used to play with,” he said. “I might actually dunk (tonight). (The fans) haven't seen that in a long time.”

       



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