Growing Up ... Jawad Williams

by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

They’ve always had talent, but what were the Cavaliers like before they became rich and gigantic and famous?

Cavaliers’ reserve swingman, Jawad Williams, took the tough route to reach his NBA dream with his hometown team.

After winning a state championship with St. Ed’s and a national championship with North Carolina, Williams did stints overseas and with the D-League before finally working his way into the Wine and Gold rotation this season.

In today’s Growing Up, the local product talks about his best coach, growing up in a basketball family and the aftermath of his first dunk …

I have to be honest … I was a Chicago Bulls fan growing up. I mean, how could you not be with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen? That was a whole different ballgame.

I’ve always supported Cleveland sports teams … but I’ve never been a huge Browns or Indians fan. Basketball was always my thing, so I really didn’t pay too much attention to football or baseball.

I tried to play … baseball, but it was too boring. So I left that one alone. I tried soccer. Played one game, quit. I did a little bit of boxing, but I decided to stick with basketball.

I went to grade school … at St. Joseph’s Collinwood on 146th and St. Clair.

I first thought … I could make something of basketball, probably in the eighth grade. I remember my sixth grade year, I was kind of dominating guys my age. But I knew I could always get better. In seventh grade, I had a down year because I was playing against kids that were older than me. But by eighth grade, I started to realize I had a chance.

My older sister, Na’Sheema … had been through everything that I eventually went through. She played professional basketball, so when she encouraged me, I started taking the game more seriously.

My mom played at … Cleveland State and my sister played power forward at Vanderbilt and later in the ABL.

My sister and I had … some great battles. She used to beat me until I turned about 13 years old. Maybe 15. But she used to destroy me for a while.

My mom got out there … and played with us maybe once or twice. But she always had a million tips for us after a game.

She pretty much kept us … from scrapping too hard. But sometimes it was good for us – it made us that much better.

We’re probably one of the few families … where everyone has a state championship.

The one coach who probably had the biggest influence … was my AAU coach, Richard Smith. I played for “Cleveland Top Prospects,” which no longer exist. He helped me stay in the gym all the time. He went out of his way to always make sure I had a ride to the gym.

Sometimes I didn’t have access … to get to a gym and he would drive all the way from Bedford Heights and pick me up in Cleveland. We’d go to Cleveland State and work out for a few hours and he’d drop me back off.

I actually started playing AAU … in fourth grade.

I never faced … LeBron in AAU. He was always younger than me, so we never met up on the AAU circuit. The only time we played was a scrimmage between St. Ed’s and St. V’s. That was my junior year and, I think, his freshman year.

Nobody remembers … who actually won. It was one of those games where they stopped the clock all the time. So it really wasn’t like a chance to go head-to-head.

The only thing we really remember … from that day is me getting into it with his teammate, Sian Cotton. But that’s about it.

My first dunk … was in seventh grade at an AAU tournament at Baldwin-Wallace. I got a breakaway and got a one-handed leaner down. It felt great!

After that game was the first time … that I ever signed an autograph, too. It felt good. It was seventh grade. Not too many guys were doing that then.