MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The University of Memphis had just turned out one of the most successful men's basketball seasons in recent memory. They erased the program's eight-year tournament drought, won 22 games and almost upset top-seeded Gonzaga in the Round of 32 in one of the most thrilling games of this past March Madness.
As the Tigers walked off the court in Portland, DeAndre Williams wondered: Was this how his college career came to a close?
"I took it all in," he said. "I had a lot of emotions. I kind of slowed down and tried to clear my mind."
While there was much to celebrate from the 2021-22 season, they didn't achieve everything they set out to accomplish. That unfinished business was a major factor in Williams choosing to return for another season, he explained, speaking exclusively to ABC24.
"I feel really at home at Memphis," he said. "That played a huge part in me coming back. The love I got from the fan, coaches and teammates. I always felt like I can flourish here regardless of any circumstance."
Williams, 25, declared for the NBA Draft in April while maintaining his college eligibility. He tested the waters and weighed his options with his family. Finally, Williams met with Penny Hardaway, before announcing his decision to return on June 1.
"He laid it out for me and told me look, you still got a place here. But if you want to go, I understand. I like that about him because he's not holding kids or nothing like that. He's giving everyone options."
Williams rejoins a much different Tigers roster. Only five scholarship players have returned, joining three new transfers.
"Not too many big names like that," he said. "Just a lot of good group guys that are ready to come in and just be workhats."
Hardaway has hit the recruiting trail without an assistant coach by his side. Williams and Davis have helped bridge the gap by doing their part to court talent to Memphis.
"Me and Kendric have actually been reaching out to a couple of guys," he said. "But like our core piece that we have is really talented and really good. We are working on a couple of guys and seeing what they're going to do here in the near future."
Hardaway's shopping list includes perimeter shooters and a hybrid big, but DeAndre is prepared to play either frontcourt position.
"Whatever coach wants me to be for the team, I'll be that," Williams said when asked what position he expects to play this winter. "We is going out looking for another five. But if coach wants me to play the 5, I'm going to play the 5. If he wants me to play the 4, I'll play the 4. I'm a team player. I'm basically all around."
He has something to prove ahead of next summer's draft, but first he wants to finish what he and the Tigers started in March.
"The city of Memphis just took me in, and I feel very comfortable here," he said. "That's why it's so important to me to come back, I really want to bring championships to the city of Memphis and show that we can be special around college basketball."