Friday, April 5, 2013 | 2 a.m.
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For the second straight year, Cheyenne coach Terel Fair will have a particular interest in the Final Four.
Last year he watched former Desert Shield Elijah Johnson and Kansas come within one victory of a national title. This year it’s Wichita State’s Demetric Williams making the trip.
Although Williams graduated the same year as Johnson, played for the same AAU team (the Las Vegas Prospects, coached by Anthony Brown) and even plays college ball in the same state, the similarities between the Cheyenne grads pretty much end there. Johnson had his choice of almost any school, eventually selecting a perennial power.
Williams? His path to the Final Four was a little different, including a list of injuries and taking a lesser role in this tournament despite being a senior. And yet, there he is in Atlanta, ready to do anything to help his team win.
“He is the poster child for what you can do when no one else believes in you except yourself,” Fair said.
Getting interest from the likes of San Diego, Cal State Fullerton and SMU during his senior season, Williams ended up a Shocker because of their assertiveness. Rarely does the last team to swoop in on a recruit get him unless that school is a far better program than the rest or it just outworks everyone else by a mile. Williams’ situation was a little of both.
The Shockers showed their late interest was serious by hitting Williams with a full-court press, and about a week later, his decision was made. Four years later he’s the school’s all-time wins leader (110) with a chance to increase that number Saturday at 3:09 p.m., when the No. 9 seeded Shockers take on Louisville, the top overall seed, on CBS.
Wichita State is a 10.5-point underdog in the game, not that it matters to the Shockers. They were never supposed to be here, especially this year’s team.
Last year? That would have been a different story. That team, which handed UNLV its first loss of the season on Dec. 4, was led by five seniors and ranked in the top 20 of adjusted efficiency on offense and defense, according to kenpom.com. A tough draw as a No. 5 seed against No. 12 seed VCU ended the Shockers’ season in the Round of 64, setting up what was supposed to be a rebuilding year for coach Gregg Marshall.
That just didn’t fit the narrative, though. Williams’ postseasons have gone like this: NIT participant, NIT champion, NCAA participant, Final Four. His 110 career victories are 12 more than the next closest Shocker, a testament both to the talent of the recent Wichita State teams and Williams’ ability to fill multiple roles as needed.
“Doing whatever I need to do to help this team,” Williams told the Wichita Eagle last week. “I've been in a lot of situations since I've been there.”
Freshman Ron Baker’s return from a stress fracture in his left foot has been pointed to as a catalyst for the Shockers’ tournament run, especially since it was Baker who caught fire from deep to help bury No. 1 seed Gonzaga. Williams started 26 straight games during the season but went back to the bench for the Shockers’ Round of 64 game against Pittsburgh.
“This is another situation that I have to overcome, and do what I need to do to help the team," Williams told the Eagle.
With injuries all along his left leg — hip, knee and ankle included — Williams has plenty to overcome. If anyone’s suited to make the best of seeing his minutes cut by more than 60 percent versus the previous four games, during what otherwise has been the best couple of weeks in his career, it’s Williams, Fair said.
“His mental makeup and personality is more than prepared him for those kind of things,” Fair said. “He’s always been a win-first kid.”
The coach traveled to Los Angeles last weekend for the Sweet Sixteen and Elite Eight victories, where Wichita State dispatched No. 13 seed La Salle and No. 2 seed Ohio State. Williams, who averages 7.6 points, 2.6 rebounds and 2.3 assists per game this season, scored three points in the two games, matching his production from the first two NCAA Tournament victories.
That did little to temper Fair’s excitement. A coach at Cheyenne for about 18 years, including the past six as the head coach, Fair is watching his third former player in the Final Four.
Before Johnson it was Lorenzo Wade making the trip with Louisville as a freshman before transferring and finishing his career at San Diego State. Like the previous trips, this one will be difficult for Fair to watch.
“My prediction is it’s going to be hard to contain myself,” he said.
When the Shockers take the floor in Atlanta, it’s unclear how much Williams will play. And unless Wichita State has another upset in them, this is the end of the road.
No matter how it ends or how big a role Williams plays, Fair will look on proudly. Nobody can ever say he didn’t do everything he could for his team.
“It’s so rare for kids to have those types of opportunities,” Fair said. “To see them realize their dreams, playing at the highest level, it’s hard to put into words. There is no comparison.”