USC associate head coach Bob Cantu remembers the time he first realized Derrick Williams could be something special.
It was Feb. 19, 2008.
Williams was a junior in high school, his La Mirada team going against fellow junior Jordan Hamilton and Compton Dominguez in the second round of the playoffs as heavy, heavy underdogs -- at Dominguez, to boot.
But Williams, in a performance that now seems somewhat similar to his monster game Thursday in a Sweet 16 win over Duke, posted a 28-point first half -- 31 points, 15 rebounds and five blocks in all -- and almost led La Mirada to an upset win over Dominguez.
When Cantu, now in his 10th year as an assistant with the Trojans, left the Dominguez gym, he immediately called then-USC head coach Tim Floyd.
"We've got to get this guy," he said.
The Trojans did get Williams -- to sign with them, at least. He signed a letter of intent to attend USC later that year and had every plan to enroll at the school the next summer before Floyd's resignation and all of the controversy surrounding it.
But, shortly after Floyd resigned on June 10, 2009, Williams and two other USC signees -- Lamont 'Momo' Jones and Solomon Hill -- were released from their signed letters, per their requests and allowed to sign with different schools.
All three chose Arizona, and all three are now playing big roles in the Wildcats' Elite Eight run in the 2011 NCAA tournament, which continues Saturday in Anaheim with a 4 p.m. matchup against the Connecticut Huskies.
Williams is the Wildcats' leading scorer, averaging 19.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. Jones is second in scoring, and Hill is third. The trio combined for a remarkable 61 points in Arizona's 93-77 win over Duke Thursday.
They weren't the only almost-Trojans who chose to leave the school in the wake of Floyd's resignation -- now-Auburn forward Noel Johnson had also signed and was higher rated than Williams by some recruiting services at the time they were released. Together, the four players -- plus three more future recruits the Trojans lost in the process -- could have made for a...well, you get the picture.
Before Arizona took on USC at the Galen Center in February, Williams told us he hasn't looked back to what things might have been like with the Trojans.
"I guess it's woulda-coulda, but we're happy where we're at and with all the things that went on before we de-committed from there, it just wasn't a good fit," he said then by telephone from Tucson. "That's really it."
So it is it. But USC's still watching.