Exhibit A is a clip from the Feb. 3, 2001, issue of Blue Devil Weekly, in which a reporter asked Jason about his NBA plans. "At the end of the year, I'll sit down and weigh it all out," he replied. Wrong answer. Within days of reading that comment, Althea and David flew to Durham for an audience with Krzyzewski.
All three agreed that Jason was physically ready for the pros. As Dunleavy says, "Pound for pound, he's the strongest guy I've played with or against. Look at his wrists. Look at his fingers." But Krzyzewski believes Williams can improve mentally. Off the ball, on offense and defense, his mind wanders. He hasn't proved himself as a leader, a role that last season belonged to Battier. For all the effectiveness of his short and long games—he'll use his strength to muscle in layups after headlong drives, or he'll bottom out three-pointers—he can improve at dishing the ball, making decisions and shooting from midrange.
To that list of shortcomings, Althea and David add others. Their son didn't seem to be adapting that well to living on his own. The first week of the school year, Althea had tried for days to reach him, only to listen to the phone in his apartment ring and ring. When Jason finally picked up, he explained that the handset had been buried under a pile of "stuff."
"That's in a room, what, 12 by 16?" she says. "J says he's got gnats in his apartment. So I ask him if he took the garbage out. Uh...no. He says his car won't start. So I ask him if he left the headlights on. Uh...yeah. David and I laugh. Say, 'Duh.' But mat's why we wanted him to stay. Because at the next level the challenge isn't basketball. The challenge is lifestyle. You need to be prepared, honey."
Upon recruiting their son, Krzyzewski had promised Althea and David that he'd put "all the resources of Duke at Jason's disposal." So in the meeting after the appearance of the newspaper article, the elder Williamses called him on it. "We asked how Jason could get his degree in three years," David says. "At first Coach K was a little shocked, but we talked internships, summer school, then brought J in to let him see how all his goals could be achieved."
If Jason thought otherwise, mom and dad had a lifetime's worth of I-told-you-so's to support their position. Not least was Althea's forcible chauffeuring of Jason, then a high school junior, for six hours through the rain to visit Duke—forcible because Jason had made up his mind to go to Rutgers, to play with his summertime buddy Dahntay Jones. Smitten, Jason settled on Duke right away, and this season he'll suit up with Jones, who two years ago fled Rutgers as a transfer. So it was that following a home defeat of Florida State two days after the confab in Coach K's office, Jason motioned the press over to his locker and pledged that he would be back for another year.
Given that Williams spent much of the summer after his freshman year on the road with one of USA Basketball's national teams, it's astonishing that he'll finish this school year so close to completing the 34 courses Duke requires to graduate. Last summer he took four courses, two each in two summer terms. He's taking five this fall and intends to take another five in the spring. That would leave him with enough credits to walk at graduation and only one course to take during the first summer term of 2002 to claim his degree in sociology, which he's determined to do.
In their three-year plan, the Williamses handed Krzyzewski a revolutionary tool for these times, when big-time colleges must recruit talent and re-recruit it each spring. "His family's support had a lot to do with Jason working all this out," says Chris Kennedy, Duke's associate athletic director for academics. "Though I don't think we should be offering an accelerated baccalaureate program for professional basketball players." In fact, sophomore guard Chris Duhon is also on track to graduate in three years. The six top 100 high school seniors who have committed to play for Duke beginning next fall, as well as future signees, now know that a recruit's wish list—a national tide, a prestigious college degree, early entr�e to NBA riches—is now attainable at Duke.
In their summit with Krzyzewski the Williamses added one more request. "Can we structure his schedule around what's going to happen to him?" David asked. Thus Williams's transcript contains a kind of pre-NBA curriculum: a phys-ed offering called Performance Enhancement, an independent study project devoted to sports contract law and an anatomy class called the Study of Lower Extremities, which focuses on the legs and ankles whose fettle will help determine Williams's success as a pro.
For a sociology course called the Changing American Family, Williams wrote a paper advancing the theory that players from single-parent homes are more likely to leave early for the NBA than those from families with both parents on the scene. He examined a number of athletes who had faced the decision, including former Duke star Grant Hill. Last spring, shortly after completing the paper, theory become practice in the most personal way.