It was quite accidental the way James Williams stumbled onto the nickname Fly. In a high school playoff game back in Brooklyn he took a rather spontaneous off-balance shot that nevertheless swished through the nets. "It was a funny shot," recalls his sister Loretta. "Right after that game we started calling him Fly. You know—he lets fly with the ball?"
The whole country is beginning to know. Fly Williams is down in Tennessee now and after 15 games is major college basketball's leading scorer with a 33.2 average. Remarkably, he is only a freshman and he is playing on a team, Austin Peay State University, that hasn't recently been a winner. Fly is not all the gunner his name or that record implies. Occasionally he will leave mouths gaping by taking a shot that defies description, but most of his points come after a variety of moves so fluid that he seems hardly to have exerted himself. Often at the end of games people are surprised to learn he has scored so much. Fly Williams sinks 48.2% of his shots, at least half of them coming from the outside.
For a basketball player possibly on his way to renown, Fly is a good enough name, though he dismisses it as a ghetto memento. "Hardly anybody calls me James," he says wistfully. To the folks in Clarksville, home of Austin Peay (rhymes with see), the name is part of the game, FLY—SECOND ONLY TO SEX, a banner in Memorial Gymnasium proclaims. The team warms up to the soulful tune Super Fly and fly swatters are seen increasingly in the hands of opposing team supporters. In local conversation Fly Williams ranks right up there with Fort Campbell, base for the 101st Airborne Division, and Acme Boot Company, Inc., a big hirer in town.
Fly's fame did not precede him to college with any of the fanfare of the country's next leading scorers, Raymond Lewis, Los Angeles State's own freshman sensation (32.5 avg.), or Pepperdine's Bird Averitt (31.7 avg.). But Fly was no unknown. He won All-America mention in high school and had at least 300 college offers to choose from. He went to Peay, he explains, because "I wanted to get out of Brooklyn and I didn't want to go anyplace too big."
February 5, 1973
There was another inducement. He could bring along some old Brooklyn buddies—Danny Odums, an excellent ball handler who is now Peay's starting playmaker, and Reggie Williams and Chester Mann, two fast-moving team managers who now hold down the job at Peay. Fly and Odums have led the Governors (the original Austin Peay was elected governor of Tennessee in 1922) to a 12-3 start. They are 4-1 in the eight-member Ohio Valley Conference and are threatening to win the championship for the first time.
Whether they do depends largely upon how well Fly stands the physical beating he has been taking. At 6'5" and 201 pounds he is not exactly robust, something he discovered against Eastern Kentucky when he wound up flat on the floor and unconscious after being swatted across the bridge of the nose. At least the nose was unbroken, which is more than can be said for either of Fly's ankles. The left one has been fractured four times and the right one twice. Just two days before he set a Memorial Gym record with 51 points against Tennessee Tech (his second 51-point game of the year), Fly was running around on quarter-size calluses that eventually required doctoring. "It takes a drugstore full of tape and three doctors to get Fly ready for a game," says Athletic Director George Fisher, "but he's a player."
Fly says, "When game time rolls around I forget all about the injuries. I can live with them. My heart doesn't pump Kool-Aid."
Both Fly and his coach, Lake Kelly, say the Tech game, in which he connected on 24 of 46 field goals, three of seven free throws and grabbed 12 rebounds, was not Fly's best of the season. "I was off," Fly explained later. "I'll be out on the court first thing in the morning." That's the kind of dedication, Kelly says, "that makes Superflys. One of these days he's going to hit 40 of 46."