First-year power forward Derrick Williams joined FC Bayern Munich just as the season was starting and was unable to suit up on opening night. However, once he got going, there has been no stopping him. Williams has starred for the German champs to lead them to a winning record and a strong spot inside the playoff zone. He is ranked eighth in the league in scoring (14.2 ppg.) and 10th in performance index rating (15.9), but not only is Williams leading Bayern in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots this season, his penchant for highlight-reel plays makes his a regular on the weekly and monthly top 10 lists. He had several of those types of plays in last week's double-overtime win over top-ranked Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul to make the rest of the league take notice. Williams said that things could get even better for Bayern in this EuroLeague.net interview. "We have been close against other tough teams in Europe, but we didn't have that key victory yet," Williams said." It is going to help us get over the top and prove to ourselves that we are a good team in this EuroLeague that can beat anybody."
Derrick, congratulations on the double-overtime win against Fenerbahce, surely Bayern's biggest win of the season. What did it take to beat the champs?
"Thank you. I think that everybody had key moments during the game to help us and propel us to the win. They are a very tough team; there is a reason why they are one of the best teams in Europe and all of us knew it. We needed it and I think this is another key victory that it is going to help us grow up this season."
You said it was the kind of game that, as a kid, you dreamed about winning. How much fun was it to have such a dream come true?
"Man, it is amazing! Like I said, every basketball player, when they are young, they want to play in big-time games, they want to beat first-place teams, they want to prove themselves and I think that so far, it has been our key moment of the season. We have been close against other tough teams in Europe but we didn't have that key victory yet. It is going to help us get over the top and prove to ourselves that we are a good team in this EuroLeague that can beat anybody."
The atmosphere was electric and the game was outstanding. Is this something you looked for when coming to the EuroLeague?
"Yes, those are the type of environments that everybody wants to play in. I reckon that everybody knows that Turkish fans are crazy in a positve sense; they love basketball, they love the excitement, and the atmosphere was great not only with our fans, but their fans. Whether you win or lose, that is what everybody wants to see in every game. Sometimes you may not have double overtime games, but they want to see the excitement. I am glad we came on the top side of that one."
Some players struggle to adjust to a new competition, but you have performed well since the season started. What allowed you to play so well right away?
"Everybody knows how big the soccer club is, but basketball is making a big jump here."
"Just the work in the off-season. It prepared me to doesn't matter which competition I was going to be. I think if you put enough work in the off-season, you try to get better at the things you maybe are not strong at, it makes you stronger. I knew it was going to be a different game and a different challenge, but as I said, I work in the off-season and tried to be in better shape throughout the whole season. That is the key to it - making sure that each and every time I am on the court, I am fully prepared and this is what I did in this off-season, making sure that my body is in the best shape possible, my mind was clear... I worked in all aspects of the game. I know that a lot of people think it is all about getting in the gym and shooting 1,000 shots, but it is not like that. You have to make sure that your body is in the best shape possible and your mind is clear, and I am putting it all together now."
Has coming off the bench all season helped you in that process of getting used to new opponents before you step onto the floor?
"That is also a key point. I think that everybody wants to start and that is not the case; not everybody can start. I know what my role is for this team and it is to bring energy and obviously to score, I have to give energy and make sure the guys that are on the court with me are ready to play. The second unit, the guys coming off the bench, is really crucial to a game. I am just trying to help guys in the right direction and as I said, the second is crucial to every team. Starters cannot play 40 minutes! And you cannot have any downtime when the starters are coming out. I pride myself on making sure that we are always on the up, whenever the second unit is in the game, competing just as hard, if not harder than the starters. This is what we have to do, every single game."
Bayern Munich is a world-famous club. From your point of view as an insider, how big is Bayern in Germany?
"It is huge, man. Huge! I think that everybody knows how big the soccer club is, but basketball is making a big jump here. I think that is all you can ask for: improvement each and every time, each and every game, each and every season. Our GMs, coaches, and the president are happy. Being the new guys in town, I think that everybody is excited. We have multiple soccer guys at our games and also the head coach of the soccer team [Niko Kovac]. We have chairmanship at our games. Everybody is excited and want to check out the games and I think that is also giving us extra energy. We want to prove we are a good team, not only in Germany, but also in the EuroLeague."
Do you guys return the favor? Have you been to Allianz Arena to see soccer games?
"Yes. Sometimes it gets a little tough because some of our schedules sometimes have been pretty much at the same time on the same day that they play. But sometimes we play on Saturdays, they play on Sundays and I have been to a couple of games already this year. It was my first time at a soccer game and I am a huge fan of soccer, in general. This is something I definitely wanted to do when I got here, check out Allianz Arena. I went to the game against Benfica at the end of 2018. It is really exciting to see the passion that the fans have for the squad and you can see it is translating over to our team as well."
A win against Baskonia on the road this week would give you a big separation from them in the standings. What will it take to beat Baskonia again?
"They are a great team. I think they have a few injuries, but we had a few injuries as well. It is just who wants it more and I think that is what it comes down to; who is going to be more passionate about trying to get the win. We have a great team, they have a great team and it is going to be a battle. Everybody knows what's at stake right now, so we are definitely going there looking for a win. We have been practicing hard, getting ready for the win so when the tip-off starts, we will be ready to play. It is going to be a team effort. You cannot just walk in and beat a team like that or expect to win. You have to play 40 minutes of good basketball in order to make that happen. That is our plan: play 40 minutes of good basketball. Whether or not we make all of our shots, whether or not we miss all of our shots, but our defense has to be there."
You have been a human highlight reel, all season long. How can a spectacular play change a game, especially at home, with thousands of fans cheering for you?
"Big-time players have to show up in big-time games."
"Sometimes, when I was growing up, a lot of my mentors were telling me that big-time players have to show up in big-time games. We made a lot of big plays against Fenerbahce; Lucic scored that big-time three at the end of the game and I got a block down by a point with a minute left. I had to make a play on the defensive end and try to get the momentum switched. Luckily, I took off high enough and got the block. As I said, Lucic hit an amazing three at the end of the first overtime. The highlights come and go and it is the key points in the game that really matter. Most of the time, you do something good on the defensive side and those type of plays mean more, whether it is blocking a key shot or getting a key steal in a critical moment. Getting stops, shot clock violations - these are the type of key plays that nobody talks really about all the time."
It is your first EuroLeague season and you are locked in a very tight playoff race. How much are you enjoying the fact that each and every game matters so much?
"I think that is the difference, man. That is the difference between playing in different leagues. I have played in, I would say, the three biggest leagues in the world between Euroleague, the NBA, and the Chinese League. I think that is the difference between all of the leagues and in the EuroLeague – every game matters. Every win counts and every loss counts. With that being said, I think the EuroLeague brings the best out of every player. Everybody is pushing to get that victory, it doesn't matter if you win by 1 point or by 20, every win matters more and more as the season goes along. Only eight teams make it to the playoffs and hopefully we can be one of those teams. We just want to take a game at a time, one possession at a time and make sure that we are doing the right thing to be in that competition. So far we have been doing that, but you don't want to get too excited, too happy about what you have done in the first half of the season. You want to continue to play hard and consistent, and I think that in the end, the result will be good."