ATLANTA — He wanted the life of a small town, a place to play basketball and be educated and become a man. His was a goal to experience a calmer, quieter existence when it came time to select a college.
Wichita might be the largest city in Kansas, but the town along the Arkansas River would hardly make anyone envision the Las Vegas Strip.
“Downtown is a few bars and a few restaurants and that’s it,” Demetric Williams said. “It was the perfect choice for me.”
College coaches would come to see another when Williams played at Cheyenne High, to recruit a teammate, to chase his good friend.
Elijah Johnson was the star of the Desert Shields back then and rewarded for it with a scholarship to Kansas, which he helped lead to the national championship game against Kentucky last year.
Williams could have been jealous of the attention Johnson received in high school. Instead, he took advantage of the situation.
“I looked at it as an opportunity,” he said. “I figured the more they saw Elijah, a great player, the more my hard work and dedication would also show.”
This is what all the hard work earned him: Williams this season became the winningest player in Wichita State history and will end his career at the Georgia Dome, where the Shockers today compete in the program’s first Final Four since 1965.
Wichita State plays heavily favored Louisville in the first of two national semifinals, a Cinderella with a No. 9 seed attached to its resume and yet with tournament wins against the likes of Gonzaga and Ohio State that more than justify its place on college basketball’s biggest stage.
Williams started 26 games this season at guard, but his leadership was far more instrumental than averages of 7.6 points and 2.6 rebounds might suggest.
It was during a three-game losing streak in late January when he demanded the Shockers embrace and play to a much higher standard. He became the team spokesman, the one who got everyone going.
“I couldn’t be more proud if he were my own son, just as I am of Elijah,” Cheyenne coach Terel Fair said. “Demetric was always a kid who believed in himself. He has been able to gain the entire college experience at (Wichita State). He’s in a Final Four. He has played in Madison Square Garden and won an NIT championship. He has traveled to Hawaii and also out of the country to play.
“Like with (Johnson), leaving Las Vegas gave him a chance to breath different air, meet different people, learn different things culturally and geographically. It took it out of his comfort zone. He was able to grow as a basketball player and as a person.”
There wasn’t much of a decision to make. Williams wasn’t recruited by then-UNLV coach Lon Kruger — “Locally, they went after Elijah and Anthony Marshall instead,” Williams said — but it was never his desire to remain home.
He flirted with the idea of attending Washington State but never made an official visit.
He had already seen and experienced the small Kansas town along the Arkansas River, the one with a few bars and a few restaurants downtown, the one that was a prime destination for cattle drives in the 1870s as a way to access railroads to Eastern markets, the one in the middle of nowhere.
“I couldn’t be happier with how things turned out,” said Williams, whose parents will be in attendance today. “I was in Las Vegas my whole life. I was ready to get away. But I’m also happy to represent it at a Final Four as Elijah did last year. By me doing well, Las Vegas does well. That means a lot to me. It’s home.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at email@example.com or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.