As the hype and scrutiny builds for the 2010 draft class, 21-year-old
"Sometimes I think about [playing in college], but I'm here now, so I've got to just leave the past in the past," said Williams, who made history last summer by becoming the first high school prospect to enter the NBA Development League's draft after turning down a $100,000 offer to play in China. (Because he is now one year removed from high school, Williams will be eligible for the 2010 NBA draft.)
The 6-foot-8 forward was rated among the top college prospects and had originally committed to Memphis, but his academics weren't up to par and he opted instead for a paying job. That job is now with the Tulsa 66ers, who selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2009 D-League draft.
"His youthfulness and his athletic ability were the two reasons why we took him," 66ers coach
While his current stats (6.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game) aren't anything to rave about, Williams has, as Tibbetts had hoped from Day 1, shown improvement. This month, he's shooting a career-high 60.5 percent from the floor while his point total has increased 60 percent since December.
But perhaps his greatest improvement doesn't appear in box scores. No longer playing among a high school crowd where a player's physical gifts alone can dominate, Williams has taken up a routine fit for a kid looking to get better. Regularly arriving an hour before practice and leaving an hour after, Williams runs through a battery of shooting drills, stop-and-pops and ball handling, an effort that has earned Williams more court time (23.3 minutes since Jan. 1) as the season progresses.
"I didn't come here saying I was going to do this and do that; I just came here thinking I was going to learn a lot of stuff," Williams said.
And in no area has Williams learned more, or separated himself from his more publicized potential draft classmates, than in the art of playing for pay.
"That's the big thing we've preached to him," Tibbetts said. "You made a big-boy decision, now let's approach it and try to be a professional every day."
For Williams, in addition to cashing an NBDL salary that averages between $35,000 and $40,000 a year, that has meant rooming with veteran teammates, consulting with 66ers GM
"The first week of training camp, every time we put in a new play or said something, it was like we were talking in a different language," Tibbetts said. "Every time we put in a play, he was huddled up or close to our assistant coach
"Next year, hopefully he'll be in an NBA training camp and he will know what a drag screen is or a zipper cut or a hawk cut, all the terminology that NBA teams use."
Williams admits the process hasn't been easy after coming from a high school system in Texas that used plays as practice drills more than game strategy. Of course, when you can average 23 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, four assists and four steals in 30 minutes a game for a team with four other Division I scholarship athletes, who needs plays?
"In high school, sometimes guys are just so much more talented that they can take days off," Tibbetts said. "So, one of our biggest things is trying to get him to bring it every day. I think that is one thing that he has gotten better at. He doesn't have classes to go to, so we've tried to tell him he has two, two-and-a-half hours every day to get better."
It hasn't done much, though, to secure his draft position. With NBA 12th men regularly putting up monster numbers when called to the D-League, Williams' modest production has left scouts still guessing about his impact.
"What a team needs to decide is whether he is worth the risk because right now he is not close to being a sure thing," said NBA scout
"When you come around to a second-round guy, you want somebody who's ready. It doesn't matter how athletic you are, it still ends up being a team-concept game and you need to put the ball on the floor and make yourself an offensive threat or be a defensive stopper. And if there are other guys out there who are more ready, then teams are not going to take that risk on Williams."
"You really are seeing a maturation process. He's learning where the double teams are coming from and he's shown himself to be a pretty good passer. He also has touch out to maybe 18 feet when he takes his time and doesn't force things. Most important, he's been more patient this season. He takes his time working the post and you can't block his shot. He's such a big, strong kid. I saw him in a game against
"When you look at great players, they play at a pace, an operational speed. They play as fast as they need to to get things done, but they don't play so fast that they're not productive. Watch
• ''I don't flop; I samba.''
• "He can be pissed at me or whatever, but you never leave your teammates out to dry like that, no matter what. Especially when you've lost 11 games in a row and you've got a chance to win a game. Uncalled for ... when a coach wants to teach you something and you think that you're above that because you've played 16 games, good games? I mean, I had
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• "Where does that come from? Seriously. It's something that cracks me up. I don't play rookies? I don't like to play bad rookies."
• "Charlotte is a very, how would I call it, close-knit, arrogant, sometimes incestuous town. ... It's close-knit, and if you come to this town, and you look like you're one of those people that might break some glass ... it's going to be tough for them to relate to. ... The thing that concerns me is that I'm just surprised that the city doesn't do more for African-American small businesses. And I don't really understand that."
• "For what I did for the franchise, I felt like I was mistreated, but I've moved on from that situation. ... I was kind of thrown under the bus a little bit with not having a franchise, an organization protecting me from everything that was said about me in the media. Nobody really came out and really told the truth, some of the things that were said."
• "I just work here."