Derrick Williams will always have a place in the hearts of Arizona Wildcats fans across the country.
Williams came to the UA in a time of crisis and helped restore the roar in Tucson, and has the program on the cusp of returning to what Lute Olson built it up to in the 1990's. Without the underrated prospect from SoCal coming to help the Wildcats, we can only guess where the program would be now.
Despite leaving after just two seasons at Arizona, Williams continues to be a Wildcat at heart. He frequently tweets about the team and the players, and visited McKale Center for the annual Red-Blue Game in October.
Most professional players sign a few papers, bolt for the league and never step foot back on campus. Not Williams. That just isn't who he is as a person. He continues to keep a great relationship with all of his former teammates and stays in contact with the program.
"You know, it's real tough," Williams said of not being able to play with his guys this year. "At the Red-Blue Game, I'm sitting over there with with all those veterans. Channing Frye, Jason Terry, all these guys over there and I wasn't really one of them yet."
Williams has struggled to find his niche in the NBA as of now, but the potential is certainly there; while playing in front of friends and family members in Los Angeles earlier this week, the small forward scored 27 points and did so on just 10 shots in 28 minutes.
"This is another home game for me," Williams said, talking about playing in Phoenix after playing in L.A. the night before, "Even though this is ASU country, there's still going to be a lot of U of A fans out there. I'm going to do my best out there and show respect to everyone who drives up here to watch the game tonight."
As for the Wildcats this season, Williams knew it would be a tough road after losing their top-two scorers, but he likes what he sees after a slow start.
"They're going to make the tournament," Williams said. "They've got a couple of good guys that can definitely make the NBA one day and those guys just have to pick it up."
"That Pac-(12) Tournament is really going to set them up."
For UA fans, they can only think about what could have been should Williams have stayed at Arizona for his junior season. He would have been a front-runner for the Naismith Award and the team would undoubtably be ranked near the top of the polls heading into March Madness.
At the same time, expecting him to stay would have been nothing more than selfish. Williams, who always had a team-first approach to his game, made the decision that was best for him and his family. When one has an opportunity to secure the future of those he cares about most, you take it. Can you blame him?
His impact on Tucson and the University of Arizona will be felt far longer than the 24 months he spent here.
Without Williams, Arizona does not land most of their 2012 recruiting class, which is the best in the nation.
Without Williams, the Wildcats would likely be clawing their way out of the Pac-12 mediocrity, hoping to make an Elite Eight run in a few years.
Without Williams, the UA hoops program would look nothing like it does now under Sean Miller.
Maybe everything would have worked out in a few seasons, but few players can impact a program in two years the way the once-unranked lanky kid out of La Mirada High School did. He gave everything he had to Sean Miller and his teammates, and it paid off for all parties involved.
"Next year, I'll be at the Red-Blue Game," Williams said. "Definitely."