BOWIE -- It was an emotional homecoming yesterday for John Williams, who, for the first time in more than a year, joined his Washington Bullets teammates in a restricted practice session at Bowie State.
"When I got up this morning, the adrenalin was really going," said the veteran forward, who has been sidelined since Dec. 2, 1989, when he tore the medial collateral ligament in his right knee and underwent surgery two days later.
"I actually had the jitters when I walked out on the court."
He was received warmly by the veterans.
"[Team captain] Darrell Walker came up to me and said, 'Welcome back, but take your time,' " Williams said.
For the next three weeks, Williams will be limited to half-court scrimmages and agility drills, which, it is hoped, will allow him to begin full-scale scrimmaging and return to active duty by mid-January.
Williams' initial effort encouraged him and team officials.
"Getting back to this point was one of the most important things I've done in my life. I'm back now, and, hopefully, I won't ever have to go through this again," said Williams, who, before his injury, was averaging 18.2 points, 7.6 rebounds and 4.7 assists.
"I felt pretty good out there, just getting an opportunity to work with other players for a change," he said. "Every day, for the last few weeks, I've been wanting to get out there and work with the guys. I wasn't thinking about my knee when I was rebounding and fighting for position. I'd already tested my knee this summer, scrimmaging with some pros at UCLA."
Said general manager John Nash: "I thought he did very well if you liken this to his first day of training camp. That is what the next three weeks will be for him -- the equivalent of the camp he missed in October.
"His knee is 100 percent in terms of his ability to tolerate this kind of work. It's difficult for any athlete to condition himself in the abstract, but now he is in more of a game-type situation.
"Today, he was active and aggressive on the floor. He made a terrific spin move and a finger roll on one play, and he was holding his ground defending people in the low post."
The main concern of the team doctors and of Williams remains his weight. Appearing close to 280 pounds, the 6-foot-9 forward conceded that he still needed to "lose some 20 pounds" to be in playing condition.
"Ideally, we'd like John to play at 245 pounds," said Nash. "But last season, he played at close to 270, so it's more realistic to see John playing at 260."
Changing his junk-food diet is a priority.
"I've been meeting with a nutritionist the past two weeks, learning about the proper foods to eat," Williams said.
"But it takes time to get rid of bad eating habits. I'm starting to see good results from my new diet. Each week I stepped on the scales, I gained confidence that I can make it back. Now that I'm working with the team again, the weight should come off quicker."
Williams, in his fifth NBA season, will continue his regular workouts at the Sports Medicine Center in Bethesda and the three-time-a-week exercise program under the supervision of Bullets strength coach Dennis Householder.
Williams also got advice from team scoring leader Bernard King, who went through two years of rehabilitation after knee surgery in 1985 before he was able to resume his NBA career.
"Bernard gave me some special drills and basketball cuts he practiced during his recovery," said Williams. "Next summer, I'm really going to keep an eye on my weight and take care of my body."
Williams blamed personal problems for his failure to maintain his prescribed off-season therapy program in Los Angeles last summer. His dropping out of the program resulted in the team's withholding of his paychecks, beginning in July.
When he is deemed ready to play, the Bullets will have to cut one of the players on their 12-team roster. But coach Wes Unseld is not looking that far into the future.
"I'm not going to read anything into this first practice," Unseld said. "Basically, John is just performing drills. We'll get a better idea when he is allowed to scrimmage full court."
Opponent: Indiana Pacers
Site: Market Square Arena, Indianapolis, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WTOP (1500 AM)
TV: Channel 20
Outlook: The Bullets have lost more road games (12) than any other team except the Pacers (12) and Magic (13). In their previous meeting, at the Capital Centre Nov. 14, Washington beat Indiana, 107-105, behind Bernard King's 34 points. Reserve G A.J. English has made 36 of 63 shots and averaged 19.6 points in the past five games. F Mark Alarie sat out practice yesterday with the flu and is doubtful tonight. The Pacers, amid rumors of a possible coaching change, are led offensively by G Reggie Miller (22.6 ppg) and F Chuck Person (18.7 ppg). Miller and Person have combined to hit 57 three-point shots. F LaSalle Thompson, subject of trade rumors, leads the team in rebounding (8.4).