After a highly praised one-year stint with Bayern Munich, versatile forward Derrick Williams stayed in Europe for another season.
This time it was Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce that lured him to Istanbul. The five consecutive Euroleague Final Fours, the presence of Zelimir Obradovic, the winningest coach in European basketball’s history, in addition to an omnipotent roster with the likes of Nando De Colo, Kostas Sloukas, Luigi Datome and Jan Vesely presented a unique case for the 28-year-old to flourish overseas once again.
Halfway through the 2019-2020 season, Williams is averaging 11.4 points and 4.4 rebounds in about 28 minutes and 14 international games. Despite being on a team that aims high, those numbers haven’t helped Fenerbahce claim more than five wins in Euroleague action so far. The 5-9 balance is the worst ever for the 2017 continental champions, which means that the Final Four seems to be a rather far-fetched goal at the moment.
Panathinaikos OPAP dealt another blow to Fener at the empty OAKA Arena in Athens, Greece (81-78). Derrick Williams, accompanied by Luigi Datome, was the last man to exit the visitors’ locker-room and before stepping into the bus, the 2nd overall pick in the 2011 NBA Draft answered a few questions for TalkBasket.net.
To begin with, Williams was asked about the way for Fener to get out of the dead end, evident in the Euroleague standings and the bad performances: “I mean, it’s tough. Right now, there’s still a couple of guys injured. We just got to be a little bit better. The third quarter (against Panathinaikos) killed us again. It’s been like that for a few games this season. Maybe half of them in the Turkish League and the Euroleague we’ve been really bad in the third quarter. So, that’s the game, right there”.
Being a free agent last summer and having played seven years in the NBA meant that many offers would arrive at his door. Did NBA teams show any interest before he moved to Turkey? “Yes, they did. I had a few NBA offers, but I thought that this was the right decision. Even though we’re not playing well right now, it still was the right thing for me and my career, to try help this team win”.
In light of Shane Larkin’s recent case with the Turkish National Team and drawing on other US players’ example, Derrick Williams admits that obtaining a European passport would not be a bad idea after all. By doing that, he could even get a taste of the Olympic Games. “Yeah, I’ve always thought about that. I think that playing in the Olympics while being overseas is sometimes very tough. You see guys from America on other teams playing for other countries. So, why not? I think it would be good”.
Euroleague competition this year seems to be more fierce than ever before: “I think it’s better than last season, from top to bottom. Even though right now we’re struggling, no matter which team you’re playing, it’s always going to be a tough match”.
Many NBAers have difficulties adjusting to the new environment. Wesley Johnson, an ex-teammate of Williams at the Minnesota Timberwolves, is perhaps one of the most telling examples. The key to making it overseas, according to the latter, is “to have an open mind, regardless of which country you go to. Just be open and try to stick with it. I think it’s tough with a lot of rule changes and things like that. It’s much different from America in a lot of these countries. You just got to keep focused, keep your head and embrace the culture wherever country you’re in”.
As our time with him was running out, Derrick Williams had no answer regarding his presence in Europe long-term and given the fact that his deal with Fener is for one year: “I don’t really want to comment on that. I don’t know yet. Anything is possible”, he replied.
UPDATE: In a later discussion with TalkBasket.net, Derrick Williams confirmed that not only does he intend to acquire a European passport, but also revealed that he has been in talks with a National Federation in order to play for them in the near future, starting from the FIBA Olympic Qualifying Tournament. He further added that the case is in the process of finalising, but refused to disclose the country he has been in contact with.