Althea and David Williams could hear the blandishments aimed at their only child, the hisses from agents and runners and self-styled advisers lurking in the tall grass at the fringe of the hotel ballroom in Minneapolis in which the Duke basketball team held its NCAA championship after-party. During 18� years of parenting, they'd done to their son Jason what few college defenses have been able to do: steer him, contain him. As the party continued, however, early on the morning of April 3, Jason looked ready to split their double team.
Jason, the Blue Devils' point guard, had just concluded the kind of sophomore season of which declarations for the NBA draft are made. During an overtime victory in January he'd eclipsed a 10-point Maryland lead almost by himself in the final minute of regulation. In the NCAA tournament he had chased UCLA from the NCAA East Regional with 34 points, including a second-half cadenza of 19 in a row. His jump shot had become so automatic that one of his teammates, Mike Dunleavy, in defiance of what players are drilled to do, found himself shifting his weight back toward his own goal each time Williams launched a three-pointer. Shane Battier, the Blue Devils' senior leader last season, won all but one of the major national player of the year awards, but Williams won the balloting among those who might be presumed to know best, the coaches.
Nonetheless, back on Feb. 4 Williams had promised to return to Duke for his junior season. He'd pronounced this "a final decision." On the eve of the title game he had repeated his vow. After the Blue Devils' 82-72 defeat of Arizona in the NCAA final, though, all those statements might be regarded as outdated. Two of Williams's Duke forerunners, William Avery and Corey Maggette, had made similar midseason pledges during the 1998-99 season, only to bolt for the NBA once they'd gotten a whiff of a spring breeze scented with millions—and neither could claim, as Williams could, the possibility of being the top pick in the draft or to have won an NCAA championship.
"We wanted him to enjoy the moment, even though we knew people horning in on the moment had other agendas," says David. "Not everyone who's telling you how great you are has your best interests at heart. The agents were coming and the runners and exploiters and so-called friends. We wanted to protect him, but we also knew he had to go through this. So I said to Althea, 'Let's go to bed.' "
In platform shoes and hot pants, crowned by a bountiful Afro, Althea Bowman was quite a catch when she and David began going around in 1970. Bluff by nature, she liked to rush in to make things better, as her Greek first name (meaning: with healing power) suggests. "Althea has got to touch, got to talk, 24/7," David says. "She has always been an entertainer."
David was cool, analytical, every bit the psychology major. Althea and her girlfriends called him Florida, for he had grown up in Fort Lauderdale, one of 10 kids. "He was a player," Althea says, shooting him a look across the living room of their home in Plainfield, N.J., and across the years. An Ohio player, in fact, for they hooked up for what would turn out to be the long haul as undergraduates at Ohio State. "It's like my mom's the lead horse," Jason says, "and my dad hangs back."
Despite their differing styles, the Williamses have stood shoulder to parental shoulder in raising Jason. As a systems development manager for Global Crossing, a fiber-optics networking company, David makes organization his business. Althea makes hers education: After 17 years as a guidance counselor she took the vice-principalship this fall at North Plainfield High—and we know what it means when the vice principal wants a word with you. Tough love is love just the same. "I thought I loved my husband," says Althea, "but when Jason came, it was, Move over, baby!" Motherhood so engaged her that she used to duck into the church adjoining Jason's parochial grade school to pray that she was doing right by her child.
The David in Jason was captain of the chess team at St. Joseph's High in Metuchen, N.J., and carefully records his athletic goals in a journal. The Althea in him "listens to you and gives you his perspective," teammate Carlos Boozer says and, in the words of Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, "loves to play, but really loves to perform." In other words Jason splits the difference between his extroverted mom and self-contained dad.
As different as the elder Williamses are, they share at least one thing. Though only two of Jason's four grandparents finished high school, David and all nine of his siblings earned college diplomas, and Althea holds three degrees. "We haven't allowed him to be complacent," David says of Jason's education. "So if we need to nudge him...."
"We nudge him," says Althea. "The press presents a picture of this 20-year-old grown man and forgets to look at the whole person. Jason is still very naive."