Deron Williams is not a man who shrinks from a challenge. The Utah Jazz knew this when they dealt three first-round picks to snare him in the 2005 draft. They needed someone who could run an offense that had been broken since John Stockton left town—and who wouldn’t not try to be a carbon copy of the Hall of Famer. Deron not only filled those impossibly large shoes, he led the Jazz to the conference finals in his first year as a starter. Today, many believe he is the best all-around point guard in the NBA. As a member of Mikhail Prokorov’s Brooklyn-bound Nets, Deron will have a chance to prove it on a “world” stage. This is his story…

GROWING UP

Deron Michael Williams was born on June 26, 1984 in Parkersburg, West Virginia. (Click here for a complete listing of today's sports birthdays.)Deron’s mother, Denise Smith, was single mom. She raised her son with little help from his father, Byron Williams. Deron's dad disappeared from his life altogether in the early 1990s.

The family moved to suburban Dallas when Deron was a kid. Denise, a computer programmer, had a second son, Kendall, when Deron was 10. Deron is very close to both his mother and brother.

Denise was a good athlete who played several sports in college. She attended West Liberty State College in West Virginia with her sister Judy. They starred on the basketball and volleyball teams together. Denise taught Deron early on that being the point guard meant you couldn't hog the ball. The idea was to get the rock into the hands of your teammates.

Deron learned to love basketball from his mom and played at a high level as a kid. He attended Arbor Creek Middle School where he became super-tight with Bracey Wright, another young hoops prodigy. They engaged in ferocious one-on-one battles and destroyed grown men in two-on-twos.

Deron also joined local youth leagues where the talent ran deep. A frequent teammate was Darius Harper, whose father, Derek, had been an NBA star. Although he was usually one of the tallest kids on the team, Deron always played point guard. His mom saw to that. She coached a lot of those early teams.

When it was time for Deron to go to high school, he and Bracey were recruited by The Colony, one of the top programs in the country. In their final three seasons as starters for the Cougars, they had a 90-8 record.

Deron was a classic gym rat at The Colony, where he was coached by Tommy Thomas. Most evenings he stayed until the building was locked. As a junior, he averaged 17 points, 9.4 assists, and two steals per game.

By his senior year, Deron was a superb ballhandler and playmaker. He wasn’t flashy and didn't put up monster stats, but he knew how to make his teammates look good. He averaged 17 points again and added 8.4 assists and six rebounds. The Cougars sailed to a 29-2 mark.

Wright, the team’s star shooting guard, got the lion’s share of the attention when the college recruiters came to call. Deron wasn’t jealous of his buddy, but he didn't enjoy being overlooked either. His furstration was amplified after he was passed over for an invitation to the McDonald’s All-American Game. Bryan Hopkins, a point guard who made a nice living feeding Chris Bosh, was chosen in his place.

ON THE RISE

As the floor general of the country’s top high school team, Deron was recruited by a handful of major programs, including the University of Illinois. He decided to accept a scholarship from coach Bill Self, but it was fellow freshman Dee Brown who convinced him to come to Champaign. Deron had grave reservations about playing beside the flashy prep star. Brown assured him there would be no problem.

Deron started 30 of 32 games as a freshman and ranked third in the Big Ten in assists at 4.5 per game. The Illini finished second in the conference in 2002-03 with an 11-5 record and were undefeated at home for the year. They bowed out in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, ending the year with 25 victories.

After Deron’s freshman campaign, Self announced that he was leaving the team to replace Roy Williams at Kansas. Bruce Weber became the team’s coach, and he put the club in Deron’s hands. Weber installed a new offense, which featured lots of motion, plenty of options, and relatively few set plays.

Deron began his sophomore year well, establishing himself as the Illini’s most consistent player. The team was ranked in the Top 20 and figured to make some noise in the postseason. In a December game against Maryland Eastern Shore, Deron took a shot to the chin and shattered his jaw. He returned to action, but Illinois struggled early in conference action, splitting its first six games.

The young club finally came around and reeled off 10 straight wins to close out its Big Ten schedule. In the process, the Illini claimed the school’s first outright conference championship since 1952.

Illinois advanced to the final in the Big Ten Tournament but lost to Wisconsin. In the NCAA Tournament, the Illini beat Murray State and Cincinnati before falling to Duke in the Sweet Sixteen. For a team still learning to win, it was quite a run.


 

 

 


Derek Harper, 1992 Topps

     
 

The key development in the season was the friendship that blossomed between Deron, Brown and Luther Head. All three had played point guard at some point in their lives, so they shared a team-first attitude. They also felt comfortable on a squad with no seniors in the starting lineup. Deron actually led the club in scoring with 14 ppg. He was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and media.

Not surprisingly, the Illini were stoked heading into the 2004-05 season. Weber set a goal of reaching the Final Four. Deron, Brown and Head played smart, unselfish basketball as the team rolled to one victory after another. The diminutive Brown grabbed most of the headlines with his dynamic scoring, and Head looked great on the receiving end of Deron’s passes. In a December game against top-ranked Wake Forest, the Illini demolished the Deacons 91-73. One week later Illinois was ranked #1 in the nation.

The Illini held onto that ranking through the regular season, winning 30 games and losing just one Big Ten contest, their final confeence contest to Ohio State by one point. Deron finished the year as the team’s third scorer, but Weber regularly referred to him as the Illini’s best player.

Illinois won the Big Ten Tournament, which helped the school earn the #1 seed in the Midwest Region of the NCAA Tournament. The Illini defeated Fairleigh Dickinson, Nevada and Milwaukee before facing their first scare against Arizona in the Elite Eight. Deron exploded for 31 points and spearheaded a thrilling comeback to meet Weber's goal and put his team in the Final Four. Illinois trailed the Wildcats by 15 points with under five minutes left, but the team roared back for an 90-89 victory. Deron was a monster down the stretch, despite the fact that he spent most of the game chasing Salim Stoudamire all over the court.

Illinois’ bubble burst in the National Championship Game. The team was beaten by North Carolina, 75-70. Still, the Illini had reason to be proud. Thier 37 victories tied an NCAA record. Deron’s postseason honors included Second Team All-American, as well as First Team All-Big Ten, Big Ten All-Tournament Team, and All-Final Four Team. He was also a finalist for the Wooden Award as the nation’s top college player.

After his sensational junior season, Deron decided to declare for the NBA draft. Steve Nash of the Phoenix Suns had just copped the MVP award, and every team seemed to be searching for the next killer point guard. In a talent pool rich at this position, Deron was picked #3 overall by the Jazz, who signed him to a four-year deal worth $16 million.

Some fans groaned about Utah passing on Chris Paul of Wake Forest—especially after his fast start that fall. But they soon grew to appreciate what Deron could bring to a hard-edged team like the Jazz.

The Utah brass never had any doubt about Deron. The feeling in Salt Lake City was that all the team lacked was a solid point guard. And who could argue? The Jazz were led by Andrei Kirilenko, Carlos Boozer, Mehmet Okur, and Matt Harpring—an orchestra in search of a conductor.

Coach Jerry Sloan used Deron off the bench to begin the 2005-06 season. Although he didn't start very often, the rookie was usually around at the finish. He also took to Sloan’s pick-and-roll very naturally. With two months to go in his first season, Deron was promoted to starting point guard.


Deron Williams, 2005 Pres Pass
     
 

Injuries kept the Jazz from hitting their stride, and they finished at 41-41. Utah just missed the playoffs but improved dramatically nonetheless, easily surpassing the previous year’s 26 wins. Deron finished his rookie year averaging just over 10 points and nearly five assists a game. He was named to the All-Rookie First Team.

The 2006-07 campaign opened with all of Utah's key players healthy. Deron was pleased to welcome his old Illinois teammate, Brown, who was drafted in the second round by the Jazz. Also new to the Utah backcourt was veteran Derek Fisher, the owner of three NBA championship rings.

Deron played brilliantly early in the campaign, and the Jazz got off to a 12-1 start—the best in the league and the best in team history. The second-year point guard was racking up the double-doubles and feeling the love in Salt Lake.

As the All-Star Game neared, Deron and the Utah fans believed he deserved a place on the team. He was miffed when passed over but still gave his all in the Sophomore-Rookie Game.

The Jazz maintained heir momentum and won the Northwest Division with a 51-31. In turn, they secured their first playoff berth in four seasons. Deron finished the year ranked second in the NBA at 9.3 apg and added 16.2 ppg, one of the league’s best marks among point guards. His assist total was the most ever by a Utah player not named Stockton.

MAKING HIS MARK

The Jazz went into the playoffs with a chance to do some damage, though no one had any serious aspirations beyond the second round. That changed when the Golden State Warriors knocked off the Dallas Mavericks. The Jazz, meanwhlie, shocked the Houston Rockets. After losing the first two games of the series, Utah roared back to the series in seven.

The Warriors may have given Dallas matchup problems, but the Jazz were prepared for Golden State and cruised to an easy series win. Deron was the key, as he outdueled Baron Davis, who had played like a Hall of Famer against the Mavs. Deron opened the series with a 31-point, eight-assist performance. In Gaem 2, Davis got him in foul trouble, but Deron was money in the final quarter with nine points, six assists and a 10-footer that sent the game into overtime. The Jazz took two of the next three to advance to the Western Conference Finals against the San Antonio Spurs.

The night before the series, Tony Parker invited Deron to dinner at one of the city’s finest French restaurants. The next day, Deron torched his counterpart for a career-high 34 points. After watching his teammates throw up bricks for three quarters, he seized control in the fourth quarter, netting 18 points. It was all the Spurs could do to hang on for an 108-100 win in Game 1. San Antonio went on to eliminate the Jazz in five games.

Deron continued to evolve as a player and team leader in 2007–08. More and more, Sloan entrusted him with Utah’s play-calling, and Deron responded by boosting his output in virtually every meaningful statistical category. He played in all 82 games and finished the season at 10.5 apg and 18.8 ppg. He also shot better than 50 percent from the field.

Utah entered the playoffs as a fourth seed in the West. The Jazz had captured the Northwest Division again, this time improving their record to 54–28. They began their postseason run against the Rockets. The Jazz won the first two games on the road, and then split the next four to take the series. The Jazz might have swept the Rockets were it not for a clutch block of Deron’s shot in the waning moments of Game 3, which Houston won 94–92. Deron bounced back with a great performance in Game 4 and was explosive in the series-clinching 113–91 victory.

Next up were the dreaded Los Angeles Lakers. Some felt that Utah had matchups good enough to steal the series, but Kobe Bryant and his teammate were a battle-tested group. Deron played poorly in the first two games, and the Lakers won both. But back in Salt Lake City, Deron and Carlos Boozer played well as the Jazz evened the series with a pair of victories. Game 4 was a thriling overtime affair that Utah found a way top win. Deron was a monster with 29 points and 14 assists. He got help from Andrei Kirilenko, who swatted a pair of Bryant shots and nailed a three-pointer in the extra period to put the game away.

After the Lakers edged the Jazz in Game 5, the series returned to Utah. LA kept the momentum going and rolled over the Jazz in Game 6 to sew up the series. Utah trailed by double-digits after three quarters but pulled within a bucket with a minute left. Deron and Okur both missed shots in the final seconds that could have tied the game. After the final buzzer, Deron hugged Fisher, who was back with the Lakers. The two had played side by side in Utah the previous year.


Deron Williams, 2006 Upper Deck
     
 

The Jazz were without Deron for the first part of the 2008–09 campaign. He missed a month after spraining his ankle in preseason play. Deron returned to form, but Utah had trouble keeping its starting five healthy. The team saw both Boozer and Kirilenko miss significant time to injuries.

Heading into the All-Star Break, Deron got hot and strung together five straight 30-point games. The last NBA point guard to accomplish this feat was Pete Maravich, in 1976. Amazingly, Deron was not chosen to wear the West uniform in February at the All-Star Game.

As the second half of the season began, Deron logged his fourth career 20-assist game. In fact, he led the team in assists every game from early February on. Deron finished the year averaging 19.4 points and 10.7 assists. He also boosted his free throw shooting to 84.9 percent. The Jazz were closing in on yet another 50-win season when the team stumbled in April, losing six of eight games. They finished 48–34 and barely made the playoffs, grabbing the eighth and final seed in the West.

That meant a return engagement with the Lakers. It wasn’t much of a series. Aside from a narrow victory in Game 3, the Jazz were outplayed and outclassed. Deron scored 35 in one game, and Utah still lost by 10.

No one outclassed Deron in 2009–10. In the opinion of many experts, he laid claim to the title of the NBA’s best point guard. Night after night, he made great passes and hit clutch shots as the Jazz battled the Denver Nuggets for the division lead. At midseason, Deron was finally rewarded with his first All-Star nod. In the West’s narrow 141–139 defeat, he had 14 points, six assists and four steals.

Deron finished the season with great numbers, including 10.5 apg and 18.7 ppg. He also set new personal highs inrebounds and steals. He was named Second Team All-NBA for his efforts.

The Jazz met the Nuggets in the first round of the pl;ayoffs. Though the teams had finished with identical records, Denver earned homecourt advantage by winning three of their four regular-season meetings. Utah took care of that with a win in Game 2, and then won three of the next four to take the series in six games. In each of  the first five games, Deron had 20 or more points and 10 or more assists—it was the first time in history a player had done this five straight times in the same playoff series.

Alas, for the third year in a row, Utah’s postseason journey ended with defeat at the hands of the Lakers. This time it was a four-game sweep. All but the finale were competitive affairs, thanks in large part to Deron, who continued his prodigious scoring. But LA was simply too much for the Jazz, who were playing at less than full strength because injuries to Okur and Kirilenko.


Pete Maravich, 1971 magazine
     
 

Fans couldn’t help but wonder if Deron’s days in Utah were numbered. Heading into the 2010-11 season, he was the subject of one trade rumor after another. A day before the NBA trade deadline in February, it finally happened. Deron packed his bags for New Jersey in a trade that netted Utah point guard Devin Harris, teenage power forward Derrick Favors and two draft picks. There was a “change of scenery” aspect to the trade, as Deron and Jerry Sloan were rumored to be experiencing some friction in Utah, and Harris had worn out his welcome in New Jersey.

The Nets had been among the suitors for Carmelo Anthony, but they refused to pay Denver's exorbitant asking price. Instead, New Jersey quietly worked the deal for Deron, acquiring a marquee floor leader the day Anthony was to make his debut as a New York Knick. With billionaire owner Mikhail Prokorov promising to make the Nets an international team, there is an upside to playing for this franchise that had not existed in the past. Anthony wasn’t interested in a long-term commitment to the Nets. Deron will have some time to mull it over.

In the meantime, Deron’s efficiency running an NBA offense, his cool leadership and his ability to hit big shots in the clutch makes him a terrific building block for the Nets as they eye a move to Brooklyn. If they can convince Deron to stay—that’s a big “if”—he can be a magnet for more talent, and the team could be a major factor in postseason play in the near future.

DERON THE PLAYER

Deron’s build is one of his greatest assets. He is no shrinking violet at 6-3 and 205 pounds. A defender trying to contain him does not have the option of bodying up. Deron will post up when he gets a smaller guard on him. He is quick for a player his size yet always plays under control. He also has an effective mid-range game.

The most striking thing about Deron is the confidence with which he plays. It has been this way since his rookie season. He can score 20 whenever he pleases, but more often his pleasure is to give his teammates the opportunity to reach that plateau.

The bottom line? Between his size, speed and ballhandling skills, there is no way to force Deron to a spot on the floor. He goes where he wants, when he wants, and does whatever he wants when he gets there. Deron proved in college that he can lead a team to the brink of a championship. In the NBA, his challenge is to finish the job.


Deron Williams, 2009 SI for Kids
     

 

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