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December 30, 2013

Illini legacy is blazing his own trail

Watching Peoria Manual freshman point guard Da'Monte Williams on the hardwood is almost like taking a trip back in time to the late 1990's. That's when Williams' father, former Illini great Frank Williams, helped lead the Manual Rams to the final two of their four consecutive IHSA class AA state championships.

Rangy body, quick first step, ball on a string; Da'Monte's mannerism and approach to the game mirror those of the elder Williams, who was named Mr. Basketball in the state of Illinois in 1998.

"Da'Monte's style of play is very similar to his father's," said Manual head coach Derrick Booth. "That's what he brings to the court for us - that style of play and intensity. He plays hard, he makes plays, he has long arms, and he is very athletic."

Williams averaged 5 points and 2.3 assists in three games this weekend at the Pontiac Holiday Tournament. Though it didn't show in the box score, Williams has impressive point guard instincts, especially for such a young player.

Booth wants him to focus on facilitating and defending. The scoring will come in time, and Booth believes Williams is a future star at Manual.

"He's a natural point guard right now, and doesn't mind giving the ball up," Booth said. "He's surrounded by a lot of seniors who can score. There's going to come a time in this system as he gets older that he's going to be the go-to man."

The Manual roster lists Williams at 6-foot-1, two inches shorter than Frankie. According to Booth, however, Da'Monte has added two inches since he left junior high and is still growing.

In a first round win over Danville (Ill.), Williams was loose with the ball and struggled against full court pressure from the athletic Danville guards. The result was a 9 turnover game for Williams, and a teaching moment for Booth.

"Da'Monte is very mature beyond his years for a freshman," Booth said. "Any time you are a freshman and you are able to start for Manual, that speaks for itself. He's going to be a special player one day. The good thing about Da'Monte is he wants to learn and he is coachable."

Though Frank Williams couldn't put it together in the NBA, he piled up an impressive list of accolades as a prep and college player. Williams was named a McDonald's All-American as a senior at Manual, the Big Ten player of the year at Illinois following the 2001-2002 season, and was elected to the "Illini Men's Basketball All-Century Team" in 2004.

That's quite a legacy to live up to. But judging by his natural athletic ability and instincts on the court, the younger Williams appears to have what it takes to be a very good D-I player in his own right

"He knows that he has big shoes to fill, but he doesn't let that pressure get to him," Booth said. "He's one who has always wanted to make his own path in life and on the court. He just goes out there and plays hard and plays his game. He has a long way to go, he knows that, but I just enjoy coaching him every day and watching him get better and better."


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