He committed under John Groce and stayed on for Brad Underwood, Da’Monte Williams has been the quintessential glue guy for the Illini, steadily working hard and improving over the last four years.
Similar to teammate Trent Frazier, he bleeds orange and blue, following in the footsteps of his dad Frank Williams who starred for the Illini two decades ago. Despite not being a primary offensive weapon, Williams turned himself into a dynamic complementary shooter this season while still making his steady contributions as a defender and rebounder.
On Wednesday, Williams announced that he is taking advantage of his extra year of eligibility and returning with Frazier for the 2021-22 season; a massive boost for the Illini.
All-American teammate Kofi Cockburn summarized Williams’ value on the court like this: “Monte is a gritty player, man. He’s a gritty player. He gets after it every night. He comes out and gives us the energy that we need, whether he’s starting or not. He’s mentality focused. He’s focused on winning, he’s focused on the team and he puts the team before himself. When a player does that, good things happen to them.”
He’s brought the energy and effort while fitting in wherever his team has needed it, whether that’s getting to loose balls, timely steals, or clutch three-pointers. It remains to be seen whether he will join fellow senior Trent Frazier in running it back with one more season in Champaign.
Now, let’s look back at his 2020-21 season.
By the Numbers
Williams appeared in all 31 games for the Illini this season, averaging 5.5 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.7 assists in 24.9 minutes per contest. His biggest improvement came from behind the arc where he shot 54.7% on 2.1 average attempts per game, up from just 28.3% and 1.5 average attempts in his junior season. That shooting improvement showed itself in the biggest moments for the Illini this season, when he hit a go-ahead three against Ohio State in the Big Ten Tournament Championship game to help seal Illinois’ first conference tournament title since 2005.
Williams also played a key mentoring role for freshman guard Adam Miller, frequently helping him execute defensive assignments and improving his on-ball defense as the year went along. In Underwood’s four-guard lineups, Williams would frequently be tasked to take on the opposing team’s power forward, giving up plenty of size and weight in most of those matchups. Williams’ grit and intensity on the defensive end enabled him to find success despite the size mismatch.
On a team with two clear offensive leaders and many other contributing weapons, Williams found ways to be efficient and effective on the offensive end while providing the strong leadership and personality that Underwood wants his teams to embody defensively. He’s been an invaluable part of these resurgent Illini teams the past two seasons.
Similar to the decisions that teammates Ayo Dosunmu, Kofi Cockburn, Trent Frazier and Giorgi Bezhanishvili have gone through this offseason, Williams took weeks to come to his conclusion. Given the glut of guards and wings the Illini have coming in, Williams’ role may change. However, given his low usage but high efficiency offense and dedication on the defensive end, there will always be substantial minutes for guy of his ilk in Underwood’s system.
He will not count towards the scholarship limit and his fellow teammate Frazier has already announced his return, so let’s hope the two can get in Cockburn’s ear next and run this thing back one more time.