The play was one Da’Monte Williams had made several times before in his high school career.
Williams went up for a block just a little over a minute into Peoria Manuel’s game against Bloomington on Dec. 2, 2016, during Williams’ senior year.
When he came down, Williams knew something was not quite right with the way he landed on his knee, but no one knew the true severity of the injury.
“They said it was just a knee bruise,” Williams said. “We didn’t find out for another week what it actually was.”
Williams, in fact, had a torn ACL.
Williams was sidelined for the remainder of his senior season after going through surgery. He says sitting on the bench was something that was not easy for him to go through.
“You’re forced to see things from a different way since you’re sitting on the side like that,” Williams said.
With his high school career ending on that note, Williams was going to be forced to make a huge jump from playing high school basketball to Big Ten basketball without even playing in a live game.
This kind of leap was going to be anything but easy for Williams, which is why Illinois head coach Brad Underwood is so impressed with him.
“Here’s what’s so remarkable about Da’Monte’s deal — he didn’t play,” Underwood said. “He’s off a long time and for young people to lose that experience, lose that game energy and vibe, that’s pretty remarkable for him to come in and do what he has done.”
Williams has been able to make himself a valuable rotation player off the bench for the Illini. He is averaging 4.6 points through 15 games while bringing a consistent defensive presence every time he checks into the game.
He also seems to have a knack for doing all the little things right, something that is essential to any team’s ability to find success.
“He might not get a bunch of stats, but he is always in the right spots defensively,” said junior forward Michael Finke. “Offensively you can always trust him to take care of the ball, he’ll hit open shots.
“He does all those things well and having a guy like that, especially as a freshman and is so mature as a player — to have that out there for us is a huge.”
Doing all those things is exactly what will keep someone on the court in late-game situations, which is why Williams was still in the game with under a minute to go against Grand Canyon on Dec. 30.
Williams had not even scored in the game and still found himself on the court over guards like Aaron Jordan or Mark Smith.
After fellow freshman Trent Frazier drew the defense into the paint by driving, Williams was left wide open at the top of the key and found the ball in his hands.
Without any hesitation, Williams rised up and knocked down the dagger three-pointer that ended the Antelopes upset bid.
Underwood had complete confidence that Williams would hit the shot.
“To say I’m surprised that Da’Monte made that, I’m not,” Underwood said after the game. “Da’Monte never ceases to amaze me.”
It has been a little over a year since that devastating injury for Williams, but he said it has been great to finally move on from it and leave it in the past.
Williams, however, was able to get something out of the experience.
“It shows you that this game can be taken away from you at any moment, so you have to appreciate it all a lot more.” Williams said.