Terps' Williams has point to prove to NBA this year

Ken Rosenthal

November 01, 1991|By Ken Rosenthal

COLLEGE PARK -- Walt Williams, NBA lottery pick.

Think about it.

Williams, the Maryland point guard, is 6 feet 8. He's capable of playing three positions. He's quick and athletic and dynamic, all requirements in the post-modern NBA.

In fact, Williams probably could start for the injury-depleted Washington Bullets in their opener tonight at Indiana. He certainly would be far less of a nuisance than that other Williams character -- you know, big, bad John.

Seriously, Walt alone will make the Maryland men's basketball season interesting, even if the team meets its predicted fate near the bottom of the ACC after losing Cedric Lewis and Matt Roe.

Williams, 21, missed six weeks last season with a fractured left fibula, and the Terps finished 16-12. Not only is he back to 100 percent, he turned in a strong performance at the Pan American Games leading into his senior year.

The question now is whether Williams will improve enough to merit a lottery selection as one of the top 11 choices in the NBA draft. He's already preseason first-team All-ACC. From every indication, his best is yet to come.

Hello, lottery.

Hello, millions.

"I think if he has a good year, yes," said UMBC coach Earl Hawkins, Williams' coach at Crossland High School. "I think if he has an average year, yes.

"I'm just going by what I'm hearing from people in the business. But anytime you have a 6-8 player who can play multiple positions, he's going to be a lottery pick."

Hello, bright lights.

Hello, big city.

"He has to prove some things this year -- durability, consistency, all that," Maryland coach Gary Williams said yesterday at media day. "But you talk to different pro people, and they have a very high opinion of Walt."

This isn't a lock. Williams the coach predicts Williams the player will face increased defensive pressure this season -- double teams, box-and-ones and the like. That alone should make things difficult.

The more pressing concern, however, is his position. Williams was a ballhandling power forward in high school. Now he's a point guard who's five inches taller than Terps forward Vince Broadnax.

In NBAspeak, he can play the 1, 2 and 3 spots -- point guard, shooting guard and small forward. But he doesn't handle the ball well enough for a 1. He doesn't shoot well enough for a 2. And at 219 pounds, he's not strong enough for a 3.

"I'm still not sure what position he will play here," Bullets scout Chuck Douglas said. "Once we get a better read on what he is or isn't, we'll go from there. The versatility obviously helps him. But we're not going to call him a point guard just yet."

Gary Williams will, even though he needs Walt to score and rebound and post up smaller guards like Duke's Bobby Hurley. It's rare when a 6-8 point guard enters the NBA. Williams the coach said, "I feel like I owe Walt," recalling that he could have left Maryland not once, but twice.

Walt didn't transfer after Maryland was hit with NCAA sanctions his sophomore year, knowing he'd become the Terps' dominant player following the departures of Tony Massenburg and Jerrod Mustaf.

And he didn't enter the NBA draft last year, knowing his broken leg sharply diminished his value even though he averaged 18.7 points, 5.1 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 17 games.

"I owe Walt the opportunity to become the best player he can be," Gary Williams said. "During the last couple of years, Walt's staying here sent a message that really helped us. That loyalty should be rewarded."

Williams the coach went through this once before at Ohio State, where Dennis Hopson was the third player taken in the draft. The NBA sub-plot clearly works to his benefit: The better his star plays, the better his team performs.

For his part, Walt said, "I don't want to jinx myself. It kind of makes me nervous thinking about the future. I try not to think about it."

As for him suddenly turning selfish, forget it. Walt said flatly, "It's very easy for me to focus on the team. I don't focus on myself at all."

Hawkins recalled that in high school, "I almost had to force him to shoot.

"It's tough, but I believe in Walter, and I think he has the fortitude to get it done," Hawkins said. "Walt is a very strong person, and he has a strong family. I think he's going to keep everything in perspective.

"He can't look forward to being a professional. He hasn't accomplished that yet. Potentially, it's there. But he has to go one day at a time. That's the only way he can approach the season."

Walt Williams, lottery pick.

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