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When Eric Williams announced last April that he was entering the NBA draft, he had no intention of returning to Wake Forest for his senior season. Then, while taking part in the NBA's predraft camp in Chicago six weeks later, he had a change of heart. "I knew I still had a lot to learn," says Williams, a 6'9" forward, "and I'd rather test what I'm learning on the court against top college players than sit on the bench in the NBA."
With the expected loss of Williams and All-America point guard Chris Paul (drafted fourth overall by the Charlotte Hornets), Wake Forest appeared headed for a rebuilding year; instead the Deacons get their two leading scorers back in Williams (16.1 points per game) and 6'3" senior guard Justin Gray (16.0). Says coach Skip Prosser, "We need those guys to be a dominant inside-outside combination for us."
Gray will replace Paul at point guard, a position he hasn't played since his senior season in high school, but he's confident he can get the ball to Williams in the post. The spot on the wing vacated by Gray will be filled by 6'2" Harvey Hale, one of five freshmen. But Wake has plenty of experience up front, with 6'9" senior Chris Ellis, 6'5" senior Trent Strickland and 6'11" junior Kyle Visser joining Williams.
Gray says this season he'll be on the 280-pound Williams to shed his gentle-giant persona. "When he fouls someone, he's the first one to help them up," Gray says. "It's good to be a good sport, but just once I'd like to hear him say, 'Don't bring that back in here.'"
Prosser wants Williams to improve his free throw shooting (only 56.9% last season), and to learn to rebound and block shots outside of his immediate area on the floor--all the sorts of weaknesses that gave Williams reason to think twice about jumping to the NBA. "Seniors have what I call the advantage of no choice," Prosser says. "Eric and Justin both know this is their last time around. They're determined to do something special."
Skip Prosser has done a good job keeping the state's best talent out of the hands of ACC rivals, signing the likes of Justin Gray from Charlotte, Eric Williams from Raleigh and former stars Josh Howard and Chris Paul from Winston-Salem.