Walt Williams recalls his steps in the NBA


walt-williamsWalt Williams’ basketball career didn’t start well his freshman year of high school.

“What I remember from practice was how much running we did without playing basketball,” the 11-year NBA veteran said at the 24th Annual Hanover Rotary Sportsnight on Wednesday night at Brushtown. “The next day, I didn’t go back.”

Williams skipped practice that second day, but he said his sister gave him a speech about how he needed basketball to stay out of trouble. He agreed to return but missed the third day when the 15-person team was chosen.

Rather than pretending to be on the team by coming home late every day, Williams – who would be the seventh pick in the 1992 NBA Draft, six spots behind Shaquille O’Neal and ahead of Robert Horry and Doug Christie – became a ball boy.

“I was wiping up the sweat,” he said. “I was the one bringing drinks of water.”

When the first grades arrived, Williams said, 10 players didn’t maintain the 2.0 grade point average needed to remain eligible. He joined the team and began his career in organized basketball.

Williams, who earned the nickname “The Wizard”, grew up playing streetball, which isn’t organized and features a more free-wheeling nature. Despite his height – he now stands 6-feet-8 – he developed the ball-handling skills that allowed him to become a point guard.

“You had to get open and be able to handle that ball or you wouldn’t get it too much,” Williams said. “You try to post up in streetball, you’re probably not going to get the ball. You had to be well rounded. That’s pretty much how I honed my skills.”

After growing up in Prince George’s County in Maryland, he accepted a scholarship from the University of Maryland because he wanted to play close to home.

“The difference is that guys, nowadays, they fall in love with the idea of being in the NBA,” Walt said. “‘Over time, I will develop and I will get better and I will have an impact on the game.’ In my day, we wanted to have immediate impact. If we didn’t think we could step right on the court and play, no way you were going to leave, even if you were an early pick.

“If you left as a junior, it was a big deal. It was nothing to see three, four, five pro (caliber) players on a college team. That was the environment you were playing in.”

The numbers bear that out. Williams was one of 23 seniors chosen in the first round of the 1992 draft, with O’Neal, an eventual superstar, leaving LSU as a junior. Just 10 juniors or seniors were drafted with the 30 first-round picks in 2012.

The NCAA’s sanctions hindered the Terrapins, but Gary was proud of his players.

“No teams of mine ever played harder – guys like Walt, Vince Broadnax, Cedric Lewis, Matt Roe, Tony Massenburg,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “Those were some of my greatest teams at Maryland. They were playing for the love of the game.”

After his senior year, Williams was drafted by the Sacramento Kings and played with the Miami Heat, Toronto Raptors, Portland Trailblazers, Houston Rockets and Dallas Mavericks.

Over his NBA career, Williams appeared in 708 games (409 started), averaging 11.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game. He scored a career-high 40 points against Philadelphia in 1993.

He also played in 35 NBA playoff games, principally in a reserve role, and averaged 6.1 points and 2.4 rebounds per game.

He spoke Wednesday about the NBA preparing him for his career after basketball. He is now a sideline broadcaster for the Terrapin Sports Radio Network and a financial advisor for UBS Financial.

“(The NBA) gave me great tools,” Williams said. “I think a lot of people look at athletes and think that’s the only thing they do. I think athletes look at themselves that way as well. The skills I learned as an NBA player, college player, that’s definitely helped me with the confidence, being able to be resilient, determined, all of those things that it takes to be successful in life.”

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