Kings know Williams holds keys to castle Ex-Terp is great rookie, but team looks for more

April 20, 1993|By Bob Burns | Bob Burns,McClatchy News Service

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Walt Williams makes no claim to being a Renaissance man. He has a college degree from Maryland, but his tastes run simple. He likes to shoot pool and listen to soul music. He mostly just enjoys hanging with the fellas, to borrow one of his favorite expressions.

But if the Sacramento Kings are to emerge from the Dark Ages any time soon, their youngest player must show them the light. Mitch Richmond and Lionel Simmons are key players, obviously, but the hopes of a beleaguered franchise rest largely on Williams becoming a full-fledged star, and soon.

As his rookie season winds down, the expectations are at least as great as they were when the Kings selected him with the seventh overall pick in the draft. Williams is averaging 17 points, fourth among the league's first-year players, and he has a good shot at making the All-Rookie Team in a season top-heavy with standout newcomers.

Williams has shown a willingness to take the tough shot -- or any shot, for that matter. He scored 40 points against the Philadelphia 76ers. He has scored at least 20 points in 19 games. Though he arrived out of shape, he whipped himself into much better condition while missing 16 games because of a broken finger in his right hand.

On the negative side, he is not yet close to being even an adequate defensive player, and his passing skills are too often overused or underused, if that makes sense.

For all of that, the Kings have not drafted -- or at least drafted and kept -- a more promising rookie since moving to Sacramento in 1985. He is 6 feet 8, 230 pounds, and he has a serious game.

"I think this team will eventually be built around Walt," Kings forward Anthony Bonner said. "We have Mitch Richmond and Lionel Simmons, who are excellent players, but Walt brings so much to the table. One day, this will be his team."

Williams is not one to brag, possessing a nice mixture of confidence and modesty. But he gives off a definite sense that his personal expectations need not be lowered an inch one year into his professional career.

"I think I will get a lot better," Williams said. "I know I have the talent and skills to be one of the best players in this league."

He has reason to feel good about his lot. He drives a shiny new Mazda 929, he is single, he makes upward of $2 million a year. Life could be worse.

But it also could be better.

"This probably would have meant more to me if my father were here," Williams said. "He never got a chance to see a minute of my dream."

The day before the Kings used their lottery pick to select his son, Walt Williams Sr. learned he had throat cancer. The end came quickly, and he died Oct. 13.

Theresa Williams flew West to live with her son for a couple of weeks early in the season, helping him get through it, but if anything, the loss hurts more now than it did six months ago.

"It seems like it was yesterday," Williams said. "It still hits me hard. A lot of people tell me I'm strong because no one has ever seen me shed a tear, but no one knows how much I was hurting."

When the Kings played the Washington Bullets earlier this month in Landover, Md., Williams established a $125,000 scholarship fund in his father's name at the University of Maryland.

"I lost my dad at a young age as well," Kings coach Garry St. Jean said. "But what more can you say for your love of your dad than to establish a scholarship fund in his name? That was really neat."

Williams comes from an extremely close family. Walt Sr. grew up in North Carolina, one of nine children. He dropped out of school to help the family make ends meet, eventually becoming manager of an office supply store. Theresa grew up in Washington, D.C., attending just one semester of college, but both of their children -- Stephanie and Walt -- graduated from Maryland.

Stephanie Williams wound up being the one who encouraged Walt to play organized basketball. As a tall, skinny kid, he preferred playing shirts and skins on the blacktop. He preferred hanging out with the fellas.

"I never played any boys club basketball, because that would cut into my time hanging out with the fellas on the street," Williams said. "I started getting serious about it my freshman year in high school. Even then, I didn't really want to play, but my sister talked me into it."

Williams stood 6-2 as a freshman at Crossland High. He made the varsity as a sophomore and started as a junior when Crossland won the Maryland AAAA championship. The team was undefeated and ranked No. 1 in the Washington metropolitan area before Williams lost the final game of his prep career in the state finals.

"Walter was very unselfish," said Earl Hawkins, his coach at Crossland who now coaches at UMBC. "He loved to practice and play the game."

Williams was recruited by Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Boston College, but he never really considered any school but the one down the road in College Park. It didn't hurt that Maryland coach Bob Wade made a strong impression on Theresa Williams, either.

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