Covering His Bases

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Think about the best athlete from your high school. Odds are he or she was good at just about everything. Now think about the odds against that same person earning a large professional paycheck in any of those sports. Depending on the survey – that athlete’s chance is about 1 in 20,000.

Those numbers must be what fascinates the rest of us when we consider that some of these guys could have defied those odds in two sports.

Cavaliers guard Mo Williams is one of those athletes. And if not for a 10-day contract player from Mo’s Murrah High School team in Jackson, Mississippi – most people wouldn’t have even realized it.

The player was Trey Johnson, who inked a pair of ten-day deals with the Cavaliers in 2008. Johnson, who was drafted by the Kansas City Royals and once hit 97 on the radar gun, shared both the diamond and the hardwood with Williams. When asked about his former backcourt mate, Johnson disclosed Mo’s baseball prowess.

“(Mo) was excellent; he could have gotten drafted – he was that good,” claimed Johnson. “He was an outstanding shortstop – he had size, speed, arm strength. And he was a hitter. I think I’ve seen him strike out three times the entire time (we played together).”

Trey Johnson has long-since departed the Cavaliers, but Mo remains – occasionally showing off that big arm on outlet passes or firing ahead to an open man. But that’s about all the proof fans might have that Williams really was a blue-chip baseball talent.

“I was better in baseball than basketball,” admitted the former ‘Bama star. “I got a lot more recognition and notoriety on a national level in basketball. But talent-wise and skill-wise, I was better in baseball.”

Primarily a shortstop, Mo also pitched and played center field. Playing outfield was his least favorite – not enough action or enough chances to really chuck the pill. (“Sometimes I’d bypass the cutoff man just to show off my arm,” laughed Williams.)

So what was it that swayed Mo from baseball to basketball? Couldn’t hit the curveball? Disagreements with the coach? Torn rotator cuff?

Nah.

“I mean, girls did it for me,” admitted Mo. “At a young age, you’re a kid so obviously your priorities are kind of screwed up at that point. And girls kind of ranked up there. As you get older, bills and your children and your family are your priorities. But when you’re a kid, you have no real priorities. But one of your main priorities is girls – and it was right there at the top.

“I got a lot more girls playing basketball – and we’ll leave it at that.”

Knowing Mo Williams: the point guard, there’s no doubt he was a shortstop in his previous reincarnation on the diamond. He still lights up when he talks about the position.

“I liked getting it in the hole and backhanding it – right in that third base-shortstop gap – deep in the dirt at the cut of the grass,” he beamed. “You plant that right foot and come over the top. That’s when you show your arm off. But I also like those slow ground balls where you catch it on the run and kind of show a skill throw – almost underhand.

“I love the shortstop position – it takes pure skill. And I have a lot of respect for shortstops in the pros – especially the good ones.”

So we know Williams can field his position. And we know he has a rocket for an arm. But, besides Trey Johnson’s glowing review, could he hit?

“I could keep my hands back on off-speed pitches and I had quick hands so I could turn on an inside fastball,” said the seven-year pro. “I was a good place-hitter. I hit for a little power. I wasn’t up there hitting home runs, but I could get it out of the park. But I could place it, too. If (the pitch) was outside and low, I could take it to right field. If it’s inside, I can turn on it and pull it inside the line. If I get one down the gut, I might hit it right back up at the pitcher.”

As the Cavaliers prepare for their season to tip-off, Major League Baseball is beginning to wrap up – with both League Championship Series beginning this weekend. As a lifelong Braves fan – (“I grew up watching them and we had a AA Braves team in Mississippi.”) – Mo was tuned into this year’s MLB playoffs. And naturally, he has his favorites lined up.

“I’d love to see the Yankees and the Phillies get in,” said Williams. “They both have such strong pitching. I think if the Yankees come out of the AL and the Phillies out of the NL, that would be the best Series. That’s what people want to see. Obviously, the Giants made a great run – having to win it down the stretch. And I have a lot of respect for Texas – everything they’ve gone through as a franchise.

“But the Yankees and Phillies would be great. It’d be great for viewers. It’d be great for me to watch. Two cities, two teams that hate each other. It’s only right.”

By the time the baseball season wraps up, Mo Williams and the Wine and Gold will just about be tipping off the 2010-11 season. And for Cleveland’s point guard/shortstop, that means one thing …

Play ball!


Joe Gabriele is the official beat writer for the Cleveland Cavaliers on Cavs.com. You can follow Joe and send him your questions on Twitter at @CavsJoeG.