Hard work pays off for Williams at Olympics



By Jeremy Werner

The U.S. men’s basketball team was dazed after Spain scored seven consecutive points to start the fourth quarter, cutting the U.S. lead to 91-89. After a timeout, Kobe Bryant scored to widen the lead to four, but the Spaniards were still threatening.

After a missed three-pointer by Spain’s Rudy Fernandez, Bryant drove the lane and dished to a wide-open Deron Williams. The former Illini, no stranger to pressure moments, drilled the three-point shot with about seven minutes left in the fourth quarter. The shot gave Team USA a seven-point advantage and the momentum that eventually helped it reclaim the Olympic gold medal in basketball in its 118-107 victory against Spain on Sunday.

“It feels like gold. It’s heavy, it feels great,” Williams said about his newest prize, a gold medal. “It was a lot of hard work. We put a lot into this. We’ve been (together) for a month now, 28 days away from my kids, I can’t wait to get back to see them. We put a lot of work and effort into it and it all paid off. It feels great for us to be the only anthem being played, we represented our country the right way.”

Williams finished with seven points, one assist, one rebound and one steal in 16 minutes of play in the Gold Medal Game against Spain. He became the first-ever Illini to win an Olympic gold medal in basketball, in addition to being the first Illini named to the U.S. Olympic delegation this summer.

Williams averaged eight points in eight games in Beijing. He dished out 22 assists during the Olympic Games, third-best on Team USA behind Chris Paul and LeBron James.

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    Williams, who led the Illini to the 2005 NCAA Championship game, said the gold medal is “number one” on his list of career achievements thus far.

    “I don’t have an NBA championship. I don’t have a college championship. But even if I did I’d still think the same,” Williams said. “This is for your country, it’s not for your team. It’s for your whole country. For a whole nation of people back home supporting us. For our troops overseas fighting for us. This is for everybody.”

    After a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Games in Athens, Team USA set a goal to reclaim U.S. basketball dominance on the international stage and even adopted the name “Redeem Team.” Before leaving for Beijing, Williams said anything less than a gold medal would be a disappointment and a let down to his country.

    “It’s been a great experience for me, a lifetime experience, something I’m going to cherish the rest of my life,” Williams said following competition. “It makes it so much sweeter now that I have the gold medal around my neck. I have stories to tell my kids. It’s kind of surreal right now to think that I’m an Olympic champion.”

    All quotes courtesy of USA Basketball.