From This Point Forward (cont.)
Johnson is waiting to talk to his son, Mitch, a 6' 1" senior point guard, who had four assists and didn't turn the ball over in 21 minutes. During his junior year at O'Dea High, Mitch was named the MVP of the Class 3A state tournament after scoring 27 points in a double-overtime win over rival Rainier Beach and its star, Williams, in the title game.
John Johnson's role as a point forward began as an experiment in December 1977, after the Sonics lost 17 of their first 22 games and coach Bob Hopkins was fired. Lenny Wilkens, who had been the club's director of player personnel, took over as coach believing that Seattle had all the right pieces but was playing them in the wrong places. In the first week of the season he had sent two second-round picks to the Houston Rockets to acquire the 6' 7", 200-pound Johnson, whom Wilkens, a Hall of Fame point guard, had played alongside in Portland two years earlier. Before Wilkens's second game as coach -- a road date in Boston -- he overhauled the lineup, benching every starter but center Marvin Webster. Rookie Jack Sikma, the team's No. 1 draft pick, was inserted at power forward; two young scorers, Gus Williams and Dennis Johnson, took over the guard spots; and John Johnson started at small forward, with instructions to help distribute the ball on offense. "I knew JJ had a great understanding of the game," Wilkens says, "and so, after he'd rebound, I'd tell our guards, Just take off, and he'll find you."
The Sonics beat the Celtics that night and won 42 of their final 60 games, reaching the NBA Finals before losing in seven to the Washington Bullets. Johnson averaged 2.7 assists that season; it wasn't until the following year that he truly became a point forward, leading Seattle in assists at 4.4 per game, while Williams and Dennis Johnson upped their scoring. They finished 52-30 and, in a rematch with the Bullets, won the finals in five games.
Recognition of JJ for pioneering the point forward position would have to wait, though. Seven years after Wilkens's experiment, The New York Times credited another coach with the innovation, saying that Paul Pressey, a 6' 5" jack-of-all-trades, was "playing a newly created position that Don Nelson, the Milwaukee Bucks' coach, has termed a 'point forward.' " The Bucks were off to a surprising 22-11 start, on their way to winning the Central Division and Pressey would lead them in assists at 6.8 per game. Nelson told the Times, "We did it to get the maximum out of Press's skills. It allows us to release our guards, who are not real quick, earlier, and alleviates some of the pressure on them and gives me a chance to play two nonballhandling guards, like Kevin Grevey and Sidney Moncrief, together."
(The etymology of point forward remains a question. Former Bucks star Marques Johnson says that he came up with the name when he played a similar role to Pressey's for Nelson a few seasons earlier. "Nellie was going through every play with us in practice, and I said to him, 'So instead of a point guard, I'm a point forward,' " says Marques, who's now a color analyst for Fox Sports Net. "And Nellie said, 'I like that. You're my point forward.' ")
John Johnson, though, is adamant that Wilkens not only invented the position but also called it a point forward. "Lenny coined that phrase," John insists.
There is no debate, at least, that Nelson is the coach most associated with using point forwards; they've been staples of his teams in Milwaukee, Dallas and Golden State, where he now deploys 6' 8" Stephen Jackson in the role. Nellie has a few rules for a point forward: He has to be a leader, has to rebound well, has to defend, has to have an assist-to-turnover ratio of at least 2 to 1 and has to be 6' 5" or taller. Nelson wasn't familiar with Terrence Williams's game when asked, but his interest was piqued. "I'll remember Louisville," Nellie says. "How tall is he?"
NBA scouts have had four years to catch on to T-Will, whose stock has only improved with age. He has jumped from a probable second-round pick at the season's outset to a likely first-rounder now. But Williams feels that his low point totals on a balanced team -- forward Earl Clark scores 13.6 points per game to lead the Cardinals, followed by Williams and forward Samardo Samuels (11.8) -- keep him from getting his full due.
What else explains why the best player on the team with the best record in the nation's best conference isn't expected to be a first-team All-America? "Every day I hear someone on TV say, 'It's not about points.' But then, when they're talking about the premier players, it is about points," Williams says. "If I made a stat sheet and took off everyone's names -- to take out the hype [factor] -- and just looked at assists, assist-to-turnover ratio, rebounds per minute, steals, blocks and how many points you created for others, then guys who you thought were premier players would be somewhere in the middle of the pack."
During Senior Night at Freedom Hall on March 4, Williams gave a demonstration of what he's talking about with 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 95-78 win over Seton Hall. "When we look at film on the day after a game," Pitino says, "he wants me to say, 'T-Will did a great job of making his teammates better.' He wants that kind of approval badly. I think that came from him not getting it all of the time growing up."
Williams's father was murdered when he was six; Terrence alternated between living with his mother, Sherry Jackson, and with the family of friend Marcus Williams (no relation), who starred at Arizona and now plays in the NBDL. Terrence had a reputation in Seattle for obnoxious antics: He and a few friends at Rainier Beach were called the Mean Guys -- there was a rival group of girls called the Mean Girls, after the movie of the same name -- and, he says, "we'd do stuff like come up to you in the cafeteria, knock your sandwich out of your hand and say, 'You've gotta come strong to your mouth!' "
But Williams has come to know better in four years at Louisville, heeding Pitino's advice to imagine that he's always doing commercials on himself in public. Williams is no longer a Mean Guy but rather a bounding mass of infectiously positive energy, intent on beautifying the college basketball landscape and making the most of his final NCAA tournament. During the Senior Night festivities Louisville featured him in an actual commercial -- a spoof of Guitar Hero's Risky Business ad -- that aired on its scoreboard as a pregame tribute. The Band of Cardinals covered Old Time Rock & Roll, with Clark on bass, senior guard Will Scott on drums and McGee on guitar. T-Will was in the only role he knows: up front, on the mike, running the show.
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