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If it can be said that newcomer Isiah Thomas has added dash to the Detroit Pistons and that Jay Vincent has made a splash in his debut with the Dallas Mavericks, rookie Charles Linwood (Buck) Williams has certainly imbued the New Jersey Nets with a touch of crash. As in crashing the boards. "From the very first basketball game that I played in," says Williams, a 6'8", 215-pounder from the University of Maryland, "I was a rebounder."
He was when he led the ACC in boards for two seasons, and he still is. After forsaking his senior year to become the third pick in last June's draft and signing a six-year, $2.5 million contract with New Jersey, Williams has established himself as one of the NBA's best rebounders. His 12.4 per game average is third highest in the league behind centers Moses Malone of Houston (13.5) and Jack Sikma of Seattle (13). Already Williams stands 12th on the list of alltime Nets rebounders. In addition, he has averaged 15.3 points a game.
That he will be one of two rookies—Thomas will be the other—in the All-Star Game on the Nets' home floor next Sunday doesn't surprise Williams. "I want to be the best power forward in the game," Williams says. "All-Star, All-Pro, MVP, the best. I have the tools, I'm receptive to hard work, and in time I know I can do it."
That attitude, combined with his physical attributes, explains why Williams, who wasn't renowned for his scoring in college, had NBA people drooling. Says Jerry Colangelo, the general manager of the Phoenix Suns, "I like Mark Aguirre [drafted first by Dallas] and Isiah Thomas [picked next], but I think there was a good argument for Buck being the number-one pick in the draft. In college the pace of the game is slower, so his impact was limited. You can look at some guys in college and know they're not going to get much better; others you're sure will be great pros. There was no question about Buck." Nets Coach Larry Brown, who coached him in the 1980 Olympic Trials, agrees. "He's obviously a great player," says Brown, "but he's also a great person."
Up until half an hour before the midnight deadline for declaring that he would enter the draft last April 25, Williams agonized over his decision to leave College Park. "I kept thinking I would be doing something wrong if I came out," he says. "I was sure that the people in Maryland would hate me. I felt indebted to them. Then all I could think about were all the people who went hardship and didn't succeed. People like Magic Johnson and Adrian Dantley never entered my mind.
"My agent, Donald Dell, and I had figured out that I'd go no worse than fifth and that my marketability wouldn't get much higher. If I stayed in school, there was the probability that Ralph Sampson and Sam Bowie would come out with me in the spring of '82, which would push me down farther on the list of big men.
"Then there was the question of how Maryland would do this year. We'd have lost Albert King [a Net teammate, who was the 10th pick—New Jersey's second—in the draft] and been really young, and I didn't want to base my career on a guessing game. The thing most athletes—most students—are in school for is to get a good job. My nine-to-five was going to be basketball, so when it presented itself I took it."
Indeed, Maryland has struggled to a 10-6 record this season. Terp Coach Lefty Driesell was reportedly furious with Brown when Buck left, and can only imagine how much better the Terps would be with him this year.
Making the most of the opportunities presented him is also how Williams explains his talent for rebounding. "It's a very simple process," he says. "I just know where the ball is going. A lot of times I can head-fake my man one way and go the other way for the ball."
Physical contact isn't always required when going to the boards, but when it is, it helps if your teacher is Maurice Lucas, a Net teammate before being traded to the Knicks in the off-season. "Maurice showed me little tricks here and there, when to be physical and when not to be," Williams says. "But as soon as he left I grew up a lot. If he had stayed around, I'd still be asking him how to get around a pick instead of just doing it."