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Pleasure and pain

“Behind every beautiful thing, there’s some kind of pain.” – Bob Dylan For basketball purists, watching Melbourne United import Devin Williams battle for position under the basket is a thing of beauty. The big fella knows what he’s good at, stays in his lane and gives maximum effort in pursuit of rebounding excellence. After averaging 13 points and 9.5 rebounds per game at West Virginia University last season – leading the Big 12 in double-doubles – Williams decided to forego his final year of college eligibility and turn pro. He went undrafted but inked with Melbourne after playing some spot minutes with the Milwaukee Bucks at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas. He is an important addition for this highly-fancied Melbourne squad. The goggles, the hair… the fans are going to love him.   But more importantly, Melbourne has struggled mightily on the glass these past two seasons, particularly at the offensive end. Williams will help. “That's what I do, I just have a knack to go get that ball,” he said after posting a double-double against Cairns last week. “That's what's getting me paid now and that's what's going to take me to the next level. I just need to go out there and get everything.” Two nights later he hauled in 11 more boards – 5 offensive – against the Taipans in Ballarat. For Williams, these September fixtures are more than just meaningless pre-season games; they’re important first steps in a debut professional season. Getting better every day, finding a role, impressing as a pro… it’s all part of a plan to forge a career at the highest level and provide for his mother and young nephew. “I know what it feels like to be down at the bottom and to struggle and make something out of nothing and make ends meet,” the 22-year-old told NBL Media this week. “I've been given responsibilities at an early age, so my perspective is different at the age I'm at now. I'm still a young adult but at the same time I've just been through a lot and seen a lot.” As a teenager, Williams had to grow up quickly after tragedy struck his family. In August 2011 in Cincinnati, Williams’ older brother, Donshae, was shot and killed. He was the same age as Devin is now. Father to a young son. “Just a bad night. Wrong place, wrong time,” Williams said at the time. “It’s sad, but that’s how my city is. That’s how my city is going. I just use it for motivation to get my nephew out of there and make it better for him and the whole family.” No more messing around, no more hangin’ out, Williams located the prize and fixed his gaze on it. Now, five years down the track, he is preparing to use his big heart – as well as his huge frame and powerful motor – to help drive Melbourne United to an NBL championship. Winning titles, he believes, is how you make it as a pro. “I take pride in what I do, but for the greater good,” Williams said. “If we all win, we all get bonus checks, we all get rings, we all go closer to our dreams and are able to help our families.” It’s that kind of attitude that led West Virginia head coach Bob Huggins to label Williams “the ultimate team guy.” “I just sacrifice, I'm not arrogant, I really don't have an ego to myself,” Williams explained. “Just being able to put aside for the whole, I’ve just always thought that that was more important.” The year after his brother’s death, Williams moved to Florida to play his senior year of high school at the powerful Montverde Academy. There he paired with Ben Simmons and current Los Angeles Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell to lead Montverde to the 2013 National Championship. On a roster full of Division 1 recruits and future NBA lottery picks, Williams was first-team all-state. He believes that experience will help him at Melbourne United. “Just playing with those guys and them being top five or top three in the nation in their position,” Williams said. “It’s the same here. I'm probably not going to be discussed in the scouting report as much as I feel in my heart I probably should be. “But that's fine because I can just fly under the radar and just be free and just do things that the coach needs me to do to help this team.” Top of that list: rebound the ball. According to Williams, that’s not going to be a problem. “It's nothing to stress to me because that’s something that I've been doing all my life and something that we led as a category at West Virginia, offensively and defensively. It's just natural for me,” he said. Williams wore number 41 last season in honour of his brother but has returned to number 5 with United.  He says he feels older now, like a whole different player. He’s using the pain of the past to build a beautiful future. “I've just been put in this situation,” Williams said. “This has been my battle.”   Written exclusively for NBL.com.au by Liam Santamaria
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