D-League rookie Williams trying to clear new path toward NBA draft
Latavious Williams is the first high school player to be drafted by a D-League team
Williams, a 6-foot-8 forward, is hoping to be selected in the 2010 NBA draft
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As the hype and scrutiny builds for the 2010 draft class, 21-year-old Latavious Williams readies himself for possible selection in the obscurity he has played in all season: with a seat on the bench in the D-League.
"Sometimes I think about [playing in college], but I'm here now, so I've got to just leave the past in the past," said Williams, who made history last summer by becoming the first high school prospect to enter the NBA Development League's draft after turning down a $100,000 offer to play in China. (Because he is now one year removed from high school, Williams will be eligible for the 2010 NBA draft.)
The 6-foot-8 forward was rated among the top college prospects and had originally committed to Memphis, but his academics weren't up to par and he opted instead for a paying job. That job is now with the Tulsa 66ers, who selected him with the 16th overall pick in the 2009 D-League draft.
"His youthfulness and his athletic ability were the two reasons why we took him," 66ers coach Nate Tibbetts said. "We've had to get really basic with him. There were days when we just had to work on getting into a defensive stance. We've watched a lot of tape with him. And now he's starting to see things that maybe early in the year maybe he didn't see. I think it was a big adjustment early going against grown men, guys who have been around and matured ... [but] I think his confidence has grown."
While his current stats (6.5 points and 7.2 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game) aren't anything to rave about, Williams has, as Tibbetts had hoped from Day 1, shown improvement. This month, he's shooting a career-high 60.5 percent from the floor while his point total has increased 60 percent since December.
But perhaps his greatest improvement doesn't appear in box scores. No longer playing among a high school crowd where a player's physical gifts alone can dominate, Williams has taken up a routine fit for a kid looking to get better. Regularly arriving an hour before practice and leaving an hour after, Williams runs through a battery of shooting drills, stop-and-pops and ball handling, an effort that has earned Williams more court time (23.3 minutes since Jan. 1) as the season progresses.
"I didn't come here saying I was going to do this and do that; I just came here thinking I was going to learn a lot of stuff," Williams said.
And in no area has Williams learned more, or separated himself from his more publicized potential draft classmates, than in the art of playing for pay.
"That's the big thing we've preached to him," Tibbetts said. "You made a big-boy decision, now let's approach it and try to be a professional every day."
For Williams, in addition to cashing an NBDL salary that averages between $35,000 and $40,000 a year, that has meant rooming with veteran teammates, consulting with 66ers GM Brandon Barnett about what groceries to buy and learning the intricacies of a playbook.
"The first week of training camp, every time we put in a new play or said something, it was like we were talking in a different language," Tibbetts said. "Every time we put in a play, he was huddled up or close to our assistant coach Dale Osbourne, and now he's starting to feel a lot more comfortable picking up things
"Next year, hopefully he'll be in an NBA training camp and he will know what a drag screen is or a zipper cut or a hawk cut, all the terminology that NBA teams use."
Williams admits the process hasn't been easy after coming from a high school system in Texas that used plays as practice drills more than game strategy. Of course, when you can average 23 points, 12 rebounds, two blocks, four assists and four steals in 30 minutes a game for a team with four other Division I scholarship athletes, who needs plays?
"In high school, sometimes guys are just so much more talented that they can take days off," Tibbetts said. "So, one of our biggest things is trying to get him to bring it every day. I think that is one thing that he has gotten better at. He doesn't have classes to go to, so we've tried to tell him he has two, two-and-a-half hours every day to get better."
It hasn't done much, though, to secure his draft position. With NBA 12th men regularly putting up monster numbers when called to the D-League, Williams' modest production has left scouts still guessing about his impact.
"What a team needs to decide is whether he is worth the risk because right now he is not close to being a sure thing," said NBA scout Ryan Blake, who predicted Williams could go anywhere from the middle of the second round to undrafted in June. "He has some versatility and athleticism, but he's still a raw individual who doesn't have a lot of game experience. And if people are going to invest in that, that's a tough decision.
"When you come around to a second-round guy, you want somebody who's ready. It doesn't matter how athletic you are, it still ends up being a team-concept game and you need to put the ball on the floor and make yourself an offensive threat or be a defensive stopper. And if there are other guys out there who are more ready, then teams are not going to take that risk on Williams."
Tanking season. While everyone complains about the NBA rule that allowed Zydrunas Ilgauskas to re-sign with the Cavaliers, they should be whining about the lack of regulation for teams that tank. And with less than a month left in the season, tanking is again in vogue. In places such as Golden State, Washington, Philadelphia, Detroit, Los Angeles (the Clippers) and Sacramento, the urge will be strong to test out new lineups filled with second-rate rookies and D-Leaguers, all of whom offer the side benefit of helping improve the lottery odds.
Deron Williams. Finally rewarded with his first All-Star Game appearance this season, the Utah point guard has illustrated he may be the best point guard outside New Orleans. Since Jan. 1, Williams has averaged 10.8 assists and led Utah to an 27-9 record. Equally impressive, Williams has played through an assortment of shoulder, back, wrist and ankle injuries that have left him looking like a mummy on the bench late in games.
Stephon Marbury in China. The former NBA guard thrilled fans in China last weekend when he won MVP honors at the Chinese Basketball Association's All-Star Game. Exhibiting an array of no-look passes and alley-oops, Marbury brought fans to their feet and rewarded them with 30 points and a handful of half-court three-pointers. Our question: Why did we not get to see that on his Ustream channel?
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