Since it’s his senior year, I decided to go deep in to the TCR archives and see what we thought we were getting when Da’Monte Williams took the short trip down I-74 from Peoria. I found two articles, one from when he committed and his freshman season preview.
The first thing you notice from these articles is that DMW is pretty close to who we thought he would be. In his freshman preview, it was his defense that was mainly noted, and in the commitment article, Jeremiah Tilmon called him “a dog on the court.” His passing isn’t anything to write home about. (Hey, remember when he literally threw away that game against Maryland his freshman year? Yeah, I’ve been trying to forget it too.) Calling him a “program-changing guard” is a bit hyperbolic, but otherwise, it was pretty spot on.
Three years later, and Da’Monte is the Illini’s defensive stopper. Hey, Illini fan, do you know who Marcus Carr is? That Minnesota guard? Yeah, he’s apparently All-B1G quality. The reason he isn’t otherworldly in your mind is because DMW put him in a torture chamber last season and held him to only seven points (and 4 turnovers!) instead of his normal 15 points. Da’Monte did the same thing to Lamar Stevens in Happy Valley too, holding the Penn State star to 13 points on 27% shooting instead of his usual 18 on 42% shooting. The only player who really stands out as beating Da’Monte’s defense in 2019-2020 was Wisconsin’s Kobe King, who’s sitting out this coming season.
I’ll posit that coming into this year Da’Monte is the biggest wildcard on the team. We generally know what every returning player’s strengths and weaknesses are, but when we expect them to improve overall coming into this year, it’s just increasing those strengths. Like, if Kofi improves like we expect him to, he’s going to learn more post moves and improve his footwork down low. I don’t think we’re expecting him to be burying threes this coming year (although that would be nice).
However, unlike almost every player on the team besides maybe Giorgi, when we think of Da’Monte improving, we think of him shoring up a weakness. Da’Monte was so good on the defensive end and the glass that Coach Underwood couldn’t keep him off the floor, but in doing so, it clogged up the offense a bit since defenders could sag off him. Considering he started off 2020 by scoring 0 points in nine straight games, you could hardly blame opponents.
If Da’Monte can do anything, literally anything consistently on offense, the ceiling on this team shoots way up. We know what he can do on defense, and if he’s even a semblance of a threat on offense, that opens up that end of the court for everyone else. He showed he’s capable of it, hitting 12 threes over the last nine games of the last season. He just needs to do it over a full season.
The second thing you notice from the articles is that if we talk about Da’Monte, we don’t really talk about him all that often. The commitment article mentions who his father is, and then, goes into what Jeremiah Tilmon thought of his commitment.
I get the feeling that he’s going to go his whole Illini career kinda sorta in the background. Like, imagine if this team is as legendary as we’re expecting it to be and two average Illini fans are reminiscing like we do about 2005 and 1989. Who are the players that they’ll talk about first? Ayo doing Ayo things obviously, then Kofi dominating the paint, then Trent raining threes (hopefully), then Giorgi being Giorgi, then probably Curbelo and Miller being wildly exciting young guns on the offensive end, then probably Da’Monte (yes, I know there are those freaks, myself included, out there who wax poetic about the dirty work, but I said average Illini fans).
Da’Monte was the difference in at least two wins last year. He’s going to be the difference in at least as many this coming year. It’s just not many fans will notice, which for Da’Monte Williams, is business as usual.