He doesn't say that just because it seems like the right thing for a point guard to say. That's hardly his style. "He's got a blunt honesty about him that's refreshing," says Kings vice president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie. Although there is a great deal of deception in Williams's game, there is none in his personality. He has a clear picture of his strengths and his flaws. "I'll give it to you like it is," he says.
He will tell you, for instance, that he was caught with marijuana in his system the second time last season because he didn't think he would be retested after his first positive result. He's so candid that when he says he has learned his lesson, it's hard not to take him at his word. Petrie, who is in the last year of a five-year contract, gambled his job that a chastened Williams wouldn't betray his talent. "We went through his history and came away feeling he was worth the risk," Petrie says. "He seemed like someone who had made a bad mistake rather than a bad person."
While the drug tests were the most difficult part of Williams's rocky road to the NBA, his r�sum� should begin with a warning: Kids, don't try this at home. "If it hadn't been for basketball, I never would have gone to school," he says. "I did just enough to get by, just enough to stay eligible. If I needed to be above 2.0 to play, I was right there with a 2.01." In an effort to improve Jason's grades and discipline, his father, Terry, who had raised him since he and Jason's mother divorced eight years ago, sent him to Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy following his senior year at Dupont. Jason called his dad after the first day and asked to come home. A week later, Terry picked him up.
Jason signed with Providence, then was released from his commitment when coach Rick Barnes left the school for Clemson. He enrolled at Marshall, where he played for a season under coach Billy Donovan, then transferred to stay with Donovan when he took over at Florida. But Williams had to sit out a season, which meant he had lots of classes and very little basketball, and that's as close to hell as he ever hopes to get. He left school and went back home to Belle. "I was really worried about him at that point," says Terry, a state trooper who retired after 27 years and moved to Sacramento after Jason was drafted. "I asked him what he was going to do, and he said he was going to play in the pros. I said, 'Jason, nobody knows who you are outside of West Virginia. How do you think you're going to get to the pros?' We have a 7-Eleven in town where some of the young men who don't have any better way to spend their time get together. I told him he was going to make the All 7-Eleven team." After prodding from his father and his older brother, Shawn, Jason agreed to go back to Florida, and Donovan agreed to take him back. "If it wasn't for my father, my brother and Coach Donovan, I wouldn't be where I am today," he says.
As a junior Williams averaged 17.1 points and 6.7 assists for the Gators in the 20 games before his second failed drug test got him booted off the team. His play was enough to get the attention of scouts, but Williams knows how close he came to losing his chance to reach the NBA. "This is what I've always wanted," he says, meaning the freedom to concentrate on the only thing he's passionate about. He plans to treat the opportunity with the same care he has shown every basketball he has ever touched. Don't expect him to throw it away.