As his basketball career was getting ready to take him to college, Deron was becoming a man and there was no bigger moment in that process than when Amy gave birth to their daughter Denae in February of 2002.
Deron was just a freshman at Illinois at the time, but he grew up quickly. While he lived in the dorms at Illinois, Amy would often make the 800-mile trip to visit and make sure Denae got to see her dad.
"The first two years were hard, because I would always miss stuff with my daughter," he said. "First words. The first steps."
But both Amy and Deron knew how important it was for Deron to get an education and see how far basketball could take him as a career. Meanwhile, D-Will was excelling on the court and in the classroom.
He started 30 of Illinois' 32 games as a freshman and ranked second on the team and third in the Big Ten in assists per game at 4.53. He was also second on the team in both steals and assist-turnover ratio.
His successful start garnered Deron interest from USA Basketball and he was selected along with Illinois teammate Dee Brown to the 2003 USA Basketball Men's National Junior Team. The duo helped Team USA to a fifth place finish with just one loss in the junior national tournament in Greece.
The experience pushed Deron to come back to Illinois even better in his sophomore season. He was also under a new coach in Champaign. After Self left Illinois to take the head coaching job at Kansas, the Illini named Bruce Weber the head coach. With a new coach and a year in college under his belt, D-Will excelled a sophomore.
In his second season in Champaign, Deron led the Illini in scoring at 14 points per game, eighth in the conference. He also led the Big Ten in in-conference assists for the second straight season, becoming only the third player to do so in his first two seasons in the conference along with Magic Johnson and Bruce Douglas.
Illinois finished as the regular season Big Ten Champion and was runner-up in the Big Ten Tournament. Deron was named to the Big Ten All Tournament Team and was also a First Team All-Big Ten selection by both the coaches and the media.
In the first round of NCAA Tournament, Illinois pounded Murray State 72-53 behind eight points and eight assists from D-Will.
In the second round, Deron went off, pouring in 31 points to go along with seven assists as the Illini defeated the Cincinatti Bearcats to advance to the Sweet 16. The victory set up a Sweet 16 showdown with top-seeded Duke.
But that was where their tournament run would end. Still their was hope on the horizon for the Illini after a strong first season under Weber.
TAKING THE NATION BY STORM
Expectations were high on Deron and the Illini entering his junior year, so to give him a more steady home life, Amy and Denae moved to Champaign.
With his family in place, Deron was set for his best year yet. He was picked as the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year and named to the prestigious watch lists for both the Wooden and Naismith awards. Playboy Magazine chose him as a Preseason All-American.
By December of 2004, after a dominant win over Wake Forest, the Illini were the number one team in the nation. They rolled through to the best start in school history and won 29 consecutive games before falling in number 30 to conference foe Ohio State.
At the center of it all was Deron, who played every game and was third on the team in scoring at 12.5 points per game and first in the conference in assists, at 6.8 per game (11th in the nation). He became the first player ever to lead the Big Ten Conference in in-conference assists each of his first three years in the Big Ten.
"Deron runs our team," Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "His feel for the game is uncoachable. With his numbers, it's unbelievable that people are talking about him as national player of the year, because he doesn't have staggering numbers. He just makes us go. He's not caught up in points. He's caught up in getting the ball to the hot hand. If there's no hot hand, he knows when to take over."
"He's just one of the elite kids. He's a special breed who has a special feel for the game."
His honors in his junior season included being named a 2005 Consensus Second-Team All-American. He was also named to the Wooden Award All-America Team, a College Insider.com All-American, a NABC Second-Team All-American, a Sporting News Second-Team All-American, a CBS Sporsline.com Second-Team All-American, an Associated Press Third-Team All-American and a Sports Illustrated.com Third-Team All-American. For the second consecutive year he was a First-Team All-Big Ten selection by both league coaches and media.
"Deron Williams deserves every bit he gets," Michigan State coach Tom Izzo said during the 04-05 season. "[He's] so unselfish, so under control."
The Illini responded to their hiccup against Ohio State by winning the Big Ten Tournament, claiming their first conference tournament title under Weber to go along with their second regular season conference title.
At 32-1, Illinois entered the NCAA Tournament as a No. 1 seed and disposed quickly of Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. They went on to defeat Nevada and Wisconsin-Milwaukee to advance to the Elite Eight, then ousted Arizona in an overtime thriller to advance to the Final Four.
Deron finished the Elite Eight win over Arizona win with 22 points and 10 assists. He hit five three-pointers in the win, including the game tying triple with 38 seconds to go in regulation. That shot sent the game to overtime, where he added two more treys to put Illinois ahead for good. He was named the Most Outstanding Player of the Chicago Regional.
"Deron Williams, the best guard in America, came through, made a lot of great plays," teammate Dee Brown said. "In the huddle we just said we aren't going to lose this game."
In the National Semifinal, Illinois took on Louisville and Deron turned his attention to the defensive end of the floor and Cardinals guard Francisco Garcia.
"I told Coach I wanted [to guard Garcia] right after the Arizona game. I always want the best player on the other team," Deron said. "I knew he was such a big part of their offense that stopping him was taking a big chunk out of their offense."
D-Will showed his defensive prowess, locking down Garcia and limiting him to just four points on two-of-10 shooting. Without that chunk of their offense, Louisville had nothing for the Illini and Illinois advanced to the National Championship game with a 72-57 win.
"[Deron's defense] wasn't a one-night thing," Illinois teammate Nick Smith told Sports Illustrated. "He did the same thing to Salim Stoudamire the last game. You're talking about two All-Americans, just completely shutting them down.
"He's a tough kid who takes it upon himself to lock up a team's best player and win the game by himself."
The Illini fell to North Carolina 75-70 in the National Championship game, ending the team's run one win short of history, but that wouldn't change how much the team, easily the best in school history, had accomplished.
"Our goal was to get to the Final Four, compete for the national championship," said Deron, who was selected to the Final Four All-Tournament team. "We did that."
Following the season, Deron chose to forego his senior year and declared for the NBA Draft. At his press conference, D-Will pledged that he would not forget all that the Illini accomplished in his three years there and thanked both his teammates and the coaching staff.
llinois finished Deron's three years in Champaign with a record of 88-16 (39-9 in Big Ten play). They won two regular season Big Ten titles, two Big Ten Tournament titles and participated in the NCAA Tournament all three seasons, advancing to the Second Round, Sweet 16, and National Championship game, respectively.
"We had a lot of great times playing here together. We won a lot of games, won some championships, and had an amazing run this year to end my career," Deron said. "[The coaches] put the ball in my hands and let me run the team, and I appreciate them having confidence in me and helping me improve my game the last two years."