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So here they sit like schoolchildren being guarded by their teacher. They talk and occasionally step onto the court to shoot around.
"Going to Austin Peay was Rodney's and my decision. Whew, it's some place," laughs the irrepressible Williams. "My mom and I tried to find it on a map for three days. Excitement? Oh yeah. We go downtown on Saturday nights there and watch the grocery trucks unload."
Odums met Fly when the two of them played on the same team in a NYC summer tournament and combined for 75 points. Odums plays guard at Austin Peay and does not mind feeding his old playground friend turned superstar.
"Danny broke the Austin Peay season assist record because of me," says Williams. "I'd hit one basket and then bam! bam! Danny would nearly kill me with passes. I couldn't get away from him. I'd have to shoot from 35 feet to get rid of the ball."
Williams' reputation, somewhat unfairly, is not a good one. "Preenish," "cocky," "a troublemaker," are terms that frequently pop up in the press. And yet in games Williams simply plays the way he always has, the way he learned as a scrawny, bowlegged kid in the playgrounds of Brooklyn. His coach, Lake Kelly, suspended him at halftime of the NCAA regional consolation game for arguing in the locker room. "You know," says Williams, "the coach thought I was messing around. He was uptight, really excited. I don't blame him but, you know, I'd already scored 22 points and, man, I was helping out on this 6'9" dude. Do you think I was messing around?"
The word is out: the big game today is at The Hole, the graffitied sunken court in the midst of the Van Dyke apartments. Fly lives across the street in an old three-story project, an architectural atrocity designed with all the esthetic appeal of prefab bomb shelters. Lloyd Free, the Most Valuable Player in the NAIA tournament, from Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C., lives just down the way. Free was unable to call his mother to tell her about his MVP award because phones are luxuries his mother and most of his neighbors do without.
Williams' family of eight lives on welfare. "I don't think he's ever seen his dad," says Parker. "What total poverty. This has to be one of the worst places in the country.
"The point is to keep playing, not to let yourself be overcome by the dope and crime and ail that. [Anthony Harris mentions that dope isn't too big a problem in his neighborhood anymore. "All the junkies have been shot."] Lenny Wilkens, one of my best friends, was never sensational here in the streets, but he kept playing and now he's All-Pro. Jim McMillian the same way. I discovered him when he was 12 in a park game. He wasn't that good but he had the best attitude I've ever seen. The absolute best."
Earlier in the week at a game at Riis Park in Queens, Ed Searcy of St. John's had commented on how the city players communicate with each other. "It's just like a grapevine the way everybody knows where to show. We travel all over the city for games. Somebody will say, 'I hear they're runnin' at Foster today,' and that's where everybody turns up."