One of these days Johnnie Williams Jr. is going to learn. Eventually he is going to stop issuing motivational challenges to his son Jerome, the gregarious 6'9", 206-pound Pistons forward who wears his socks to his knees and calls himself the Junk Yard Dog.
Last month Johnnie promised he would do 100 push-ups, 100 sit-ups and 100 jumping jacks daily for a month if Jerome pulled down 20 rebounds in a game. Just two weeks later Jerome grabbed a career-high 21 in a victory over the Hornets. Earlier this season the elder Williams had to lose 10 pounds when Jerome met his challenge by averaging double figures in points and boards during November. Last year Johnnie refused to get a haircut until Jerome delivered a 15-rebound game, which he did after two months. "My big mouth keeps getting me in trouble," says Johnnie, 49, an electrical engineer from Silver Spring, Md. "Every time I throw something out there, he meets the test."
While turning his father into Richard Simmons, the 26-year-old Williams is shaping up as a contender for the Sixth Man Award. At week's end he was averaging 9-2 points and 10.4 rebounds while shooting 62.3% from the floor. He was also chasing double doubles the way a junkyard dog goes after a hubcap thief. With 14 this season, he has a chance to become the first Detroit player to average double figures in points and rebounds since Bill Laimbeer in 1987-88.
Though it has taken Williams four seasons to excel in the NBA, he's been contributing to Detroit since the Pistons took him with the 26th pick of the 1996 draft. Four years ago he and his older brother, Johnnie III, formed a nonprofit organization called Positive Shades of Black, dedicated to motivating kids in Detroit's inner city. The organization teaches study habits and life skills, such as how to write a resume and establish credit and use it wisely, and it provides tickets to Pistons home games. Some 30,000 kids have gone through the program.
Williams talks to the youngsters about his unlikely path to the NBA: how he went unrecruited out of Magruder High in Rockville, Md., as a 6'3" point guard; how he paid his own way to Montgomery Junior College in German-town, Md., for two years by taking an $8-an-hour job at a medical supply company; how he was discovered by Georgetown coaches at a weekly pickup game in Washington. "I tell them it's O.K. to dream but to make sure you have an education to fall back on," says Williams, who graduated from Georgetown with a sociology degree.
Williams, a fan favorite in Detroit, has his own rooting section at The Palace (the Dogg Pound), his own Web site (www.dadog.com) and his own mascot, a Hoya-like bulldog who makes appearances at area schools and hospitals. Still, he might not be the big dog in his family for long. "All this dieting and exercise are getting me back into shape," Johnnie says. "Pretty soon I'm going to be able to take Jerome again in a game of one-on-one."