While other mothers might have ordered this racket outside, Mrs. Williams endured. She had been a student at Dunbar High. Her brothers had also gone there, except Russ, the one Reggie most resembled. Reggie's father, Melvin Williams (a stock clerk at a tobacco store), had also attended Dunbar. They all played basketball, but Reggie is the first member of the family to go on to college. "They were all good, but there was nobody to come and find them then," Mrs. Williams says. "When Reggie was little, I understood. I've always been around young men."
When Reggie was 12, he told his mother he was going to get an award at a sixth-grade athletic banquet. Mrs. Williams put off a bill or two and bought him a white sport coat and some brown slacks. Reggie was the sharpest boy there. "He told me, 'You didn't have to do this,' but I could see the happiness on his face," says Mrs. Williams. "That's when I knew for sure how important basketball was to him."
Williams grew from 6'2" to 6'6" in the year after he left Lombard Junior High and went to Dunbar. A kid named Rodney Coffield was injured midway through Williams's sophomore season. Coach Bob Wade made Williams a starter and Coffield, who never returned to the regular lineup, was immortalized: the Wally Pipp of East Baltimore. Over the next 2� years the Poets of Dunbar made an eloquent on-court case for being the greatest high school basketball team of all time. And they couldn't have done it without the Big Fella.
"I had some great players, but Reggie stood tall," says Wade, now the coach at Maryland. Bogues, Reggie Lewis (Northeastern), David Wingate ( Georgetown), Tim Dawson ( Miami), Gary Graham and Keith James ( UNLV), Herman Harried ( Syracuse) and Michael Brown (Clemson) were his teammates. "The practices were better than the games," says Brown, Wade's most recruited player after Williams and Wingate. "Reggie? Very nice person. Kept to himself. Helped others. And tough."
"What struck me most," says Wade, "was his gracefulness."
People began to stop Gloria and her other kids (Tim is 27, Veronica 25, Melvin 21 and Ivan 15) on the street. "They'd say, 'That Reggie is something else, Glo,' " she says. "Well, what was I supposed to do? I couldn't be running up and down the street hollering about it. I was glad for Reggie. His brothers and uncles are tall and graceful." In fact, Mrs. Williams is a graceful 6-footer herself. "People said, 'Humph. She doesn't act like I would act if he was mine.' But Reggie doesn't belong to anyone. I love him because he's my son. But he's always been a wanderer and gone his own way."
Williams chose Georgetown when he could have gone virtually anywhere. "The key to motivation is selection," says Thompson. "Life is about competition, but a lot of high school superstars like Reggie listen when guys tell them, 'You don't want to go to a Georgetown or a Carolina. There's too much talent there. You want to have a chance to be a star.' They get spoiled. Reggie wasn't looking for the easy way out."
The premium high school player, 6'6" or taller, could have a far easier life away from Georgetown—witness 6'6" Anthony Jones, who transferred to UNLV before Williams arrived, and the 6'9" dropout Michael Graham. At Georgetown players live in dorms with the general population, and schoolwork is not optional. They must adapt their skills to the needs of the team. There is, after all, only one superstar among the Jesuits. Williams's lifetime scoring average at Georgetown is 14.6. He might have doubled that at another school.
"If you can't test yourself against the best at this level, what can you hope to do in the NBA?" says Thompson. "Or with the rest of life?"
So Reggie Williams, high school superstar, became Reggie Williams, the homesick freshman who was intimidated by the classroom load, who fought back when pushed and who went home almost every weekend for the solace of his mother's cooking and in a circuitous way, her advice. "He'd tell his sister or brothers, and it would get around to me," says Mrs. Williams. "I told Reggie that he can't be a genius at everything, but that he could make it."