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Jon Krawczynski / Associated Press, Published October 03 2012

Wolves coaches like what they see so far from Derrick Williams

MANKATO, Minn. – Derrick Williams spent most of his rookie season in Minnesota trying to find his way.

With a shortened training camp, precious little practice time once the season began and up to five games a week, it was perhaps the most challenging season ever for a rookie. The No. 2 overall draft choice had to do a lot of searching – for the right times to be aggressive in Rick Adelman’s offense, for the correct reads on defense when the ball rotated quickly, for consistent playing time to get into a rhythm on both ends.

The Timberwolves’ veteran coaching staff, meanwhile, kept waiting for Williams to kick it into gear. Early in his second training camp, Williams is giving them what they want.

“He just floated last year,” Adelman said. “You’d see it once in a while. Today he made hard cuts and he was aggressive going to the basket. He just played with more authority and he played harder. That’s the difference. You’ve got to play hard in this league.”

Williams averaged 8.8 points and 4.7 rebounds in just over 21 minutes a game last season, underwhelming numbers for a player many dubbed as the most NBA-ready prospect of the 2011 draft. On one occasion last season, Williams said he felt like a “caged lion” while seeing his playing time go up and down.

Adelman didn’t quite see it that way.

“You can’t cruise or it’s not going to work,” Adelman said.

On the first day of training camp, Williams’ intensity and commitment on both ends stood out perhaps more than any other development on a team with only five players on the roster from a year ago.

“I’d venture to say he had his best day that he’s had here,” assistant coach Bill Bayno said after Day 1. “His focus was there. All the things we had to stay on him about last year, we really didn’t have to get on him. He did the little things, stayed in his stance. He had that look in his eye of, ‘I’m not just here to play basketball, I’m here to compete and get stuff done.’”

Not just in his eye, but with his body as well. The Timberwolves challenged Williams when last season ended to prove to them that he was committed to his craft. He responded by throwing himself into grueling workouts, changing his diet to get leaner and working on his agility to better prepare himself to handle more minutes at small forward this season.

He practiced against point guards in one-on-one drills, ran hills at the Manhattan Beach sand dunes in California and had surgery to fix a deviated septum to help him breathe better when his heart rate jumps. He dropped about 10 pounds, but more importantly trimmed his body fat from 12.5 percent to 7.3 percent.

“Way better shape. It’s like night and day,” Williams said. “I’m not getting as tired. It’s the first day. But I’m feeling good about myself and what I did this summer. Hopefully it translates.”