T-Will the life of the Louisville party
LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The Terrence Williams Variety Show had just concluded the on-court portion of the day's presentation with a typical smorgasbord line: 14 points, eight rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one W.
Now it was time for the postgame entertainment. The Louisville senior forward, natural ham and runaway fan favorite, removed his adidas high-tops and hollered to a team manager for a Sharpie. He signed the heels of both shoes and tossed them into the Freedom Hall stands.
"Two more games here -- one more now," Williams said after leading the surging Cardinals past gutty Marquette 62-58. "I get to see the fans up close. Why not leave them with something?"
Then he was off to the locker room, in stocking feet, to leave the media with something -- more of his stream-of-consciousness commentary. Metaphors, similes and analogies flow like floodwaters from Williams' fertile, flaky mind.
He fills notebooks the way he fills the stat sheet and the way he covers his skin with ink. With T-Will, there is never any blank space or dead air.
After beating Providence this past week, this was Williams' description of winding down his senior year: "I'm like a kid whose parents went away and I'm having a house party. I'm loving it."
"Like McDonald's!" Williams said enthusiastically. "Shout-out to McDonald's!"
After Sunday's win over Marquette, Williams breezily dismissed the media as basketball know-nothings. He diplomatically bit his tongue but simultaneously rolled his eyes when asked about Marquette guard Jerel McNeal, who went 3-for-19 in this loss but is one of 15 finalists for the U.S. Basketball Writers Player of the Year award (while Williams is not). He said he aspires to have adidas fight with Nike for his services as an NBA player. He threw in another McDonald's reference. He listed the ways in which he differs from classmate and roommate Andre McGee.
"We don't agree on nothing," Williams said. "He likes Kobe, I like LeBron. He likes juice, I like soda. He likes cold air, I like to sleep with the heat on."
What Terrence Williams likes most is heating up every game and every practice with his effervescent personality and insatiable work ethic. He is the Cardinals' fire-starter.
Pitino loves coaching the 6-foot-6, 220-pound Seattle native in practice because he brings it every day. He loves coaching him in games because he devours the scouting report -- if the emphasis of the day is rebounding, Williams will get a dozen; if it's defensive pressure, he'll make five steals.
Where there is a T-Will, there is a way to win a game. The Cardinals have won 23 of them this season, positioning themselves for a possible Big East title and NCAA tournament No. 1 seed, in no small part because of Williams.
The scoring-obsessed miss the point, because his line is often missing big points. He's averaging 12.5 points, a number that was diminished by a three-game, eight-point stretch while playing through a bruised right wrist. He entered Sunday eighth in the Big East in rebounding (8.5 per game), fifth in assists (4.8), fourth in steals (2.1) and fourth in assist-turnover ratio (2.1-1). He is an excellent on-ball defender in man-to-man situations and a gadfly in the Cardinals' 2-3 zone.
"He can kill you softly however he wants," Marquette coach Buzz Williams said.
"He has the ability to not just be a scorer, but be somebody who makes the players around him better," Providence coach Keno Davis said. "He can have a huge scoring night, but he can beat you other ways. He can beat you with his passing, he can beat you with his defense, he can beat you with his rebounding.
"You can't really game plan against him. What do you need to take away from him? Well, he does everything."
Williams was blessed with lavish natural gifts. He is a high flier with a career full of YouTube-worthy dunks, and only Duke's Gerald Henderson is with him in the Best Athlete in College Basketball argument.
But over the course of four years he's also become a skilled player.
His shooting percentages have risen to respectable levels (43 percent from the field, 35 percent from 3-point range) thanks to diligence and smarter shot selection. He's become a legitimate 3-point threat instead of a jump-shooting liability. He's vastly improved his ability to go left with the ball.
Today Williams stands as one of just eight players in Louisville's rich history to record at least 1,400 points and 800 rebounds, and he's fourth in school history in assists and sixth in steals.
He has, quite simply, grown up. And not just as a player.
"T-Will has grown into a wonderful person," Pitino said. "That is what college is supposed to do, but it doesn't always work out that way. It's supposed to be wonderful and you're supposed to learn the facts of life, and he has."
The first fact Williams had to learn is that he wasn't anywhere near as NBA-ready as he thought he was. This is a guy who never dreamed he'd have a Senior Night at Louisville.
"I thought I'd have a Sophomore Night," he said. "But I don't regret it at all. You win the fans over if you stay four years. They learn to love you."
It was a 20,000-person love-in at Freedom Hall on Sunday, as Williams shot the Cardinals to a three-point halftime lead by hitting three 3s. In the second half he contributed to the defensive effort that held the Golden Eagles -- playing with limitless pluck after losing point guard Dominic James for the season this past week to a broken foot -- to 34 percent shooting.
Then it was on to the postgame lovefest. Hard to believe it's the same guy who came to college "a little surly and a little moody," according to his coach.
"He didn't want to talk," Pitino said. "Now you can't shut him up."
Can't shut him up. Can't shut him out of the box score. Can't beat his team. Life is full and life is fun for Louisville's No. 1.
Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at ESPN4D@aol.com.
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