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Williams Feature: Sean Continues
By Matt McQueeny, NJNets.com
February 14, 2008
East Rutherford, N.J. --
Nets rookie Sean Williams did not start playing organized basketball until the summer before his senior year in High School. Digest that. It was just four years ago when he suited up for the first time, as a member of the Dallas Mustangs AAU team in the summer of 2003.
Tony Johnson - Founder, Executive Director, and Head Coach of the Mustangs – said that it was during that summer that he saw a tall kid sitting in the lobby outside of a gym where the Mustangs were playing a tournament. Johnson asked him who he played with, that kid - Sean - said nobody, and a match was made.
“I had one of the best AAU teams in the country,” said Johnson.
“We were just coming off of winning a back-to-back AAU Nationals and we needed a big guy. We had a kid about 6-2 to 6-4 and Sean was probably about 6-5 or 6-6. We needed a big kid so I just took him. I took him and he made a believer of me.”
“He was goofy,” laughed Johnson, of his first recollections of Williams. “He was tall, he was goofy, but he was very determined to learn how to play. He was athletic but he just didn’t have basketball knowledge. He was just a real big kid. He couldn’t catch it; he was real wild. The kids he was playing with said ‘Coach Tony, he isn’t going to make it’.”
But once committed to basketball, Sean really put in his work, getting in the gym for workouts and practices several times a week. He had a steep learning curve but he made headway quickly, and by April of 2004, it seemingly clicked.
“We played a kid from the D.C. Blue Devils (AAU Team) who was supposed to be one of the best big kids in the country…and I put Sean in the game and I couldn’t take him out,” said Johnson. “He just dominated everything. He dominated the boards, he dominated the blocks, the guy he was playing couldn’t get a shot off, and then from there on he just got better and better and better.”
“After that game, I sat Sean down and said ‘you can really play, man. Whoever’s telling you that you can’t play is messing with you.’ From then on, he just took it seriously.”
“I had other AAU coaches laughing at me. ‘What are you going to do with that goofy (kid)?’ After that April, they weren’t laughing anymore. Nobody was laughing now. Everybody said that it wasn’t even the same Sean Williams.”
From that point, his hunger and confidence were further fueled. He also started displaying the jaw-dropping, crowd-pleasing aspects of his game that he has shown in the NBA.
“We played a team out of New York and Sean had 17 blocks and he took away four dunks,” related Johnson. “And the gym was so crowded, it was standing room only. Everyone was standing around the gym and they were all in the stands. And he just really put on a show.”
And here he is in the NBA and on his way to all-star weekend to play in the T-Mobile Rookie Challenge and Youth Jam. The funny and interesting thing about Sean is that according to him he didn’t even play for fun in pick up basketball games.
“I sometimes played in the front yard at my grandmother’s house on like a nine-and-a-half foot goal against my little cousins.”
When you take all that into consideration, it’s unbelievable how far the born-to-shot-block 21 year-old kid has come.
“Three, four years ago, in college and high school, I was jokingly shooting shots from the (low) block and making them every now and then,” chuckled Williams, who has shown the ability to hit a mid-range shot, as well as a hook shot, in games this year.
“It’s just playing with the ball. I’m new to this game still. I’ve only been playing about four or five years. I just love feeling the ball and the leather. Every day I feel a different groove on the ball.”
And every day he seems to show a new facet to his emerging game.
“I feel like I’m improving definitely rebounding wise…Every time the ball goes up, you have to put a hand on your man and get between him and the basket and then go to the basket and get the rebound…And then just working on my overall game every day, trying to get my shot better, my touch, working with big Bill (Cartwright) getting my touch right, and just trying to learn the defensive schemes that L (Head Coach Lawrence Frank) throws at us.”
“He’s done a lot,” notes Frank, assessing the rook’s first season to date.
“You always want more and I think that’s part of the job of a coach. You never let anyone – whether it’s your best player or a rookie – rest on what they did yesterday. You always have to ask more and demand more to get more. So I think he’s done some very good things but he still has a big opportunity and a big growth spurt in front of him.”
When asked to give his own grade for his first half of the season, Williams said he probably would give himself a “B+”.
“If only the team was winning more I’d give myself an ‘A’ but we haven’t been getting as many victories as expected. I’ve been playing well individually myself…I met a couple of goals.”
When asked what those goals were, Williams said, “just get productive minutes, gain the confidence of my teammates, and I wanted to be in the rookie-sophomore game.”
Check. Check. And Check.
“He’s been playing all out,” beamed Vince Carter. “I think he’s more comfortable. I think Coach gets on him, he gets frustrated sometimes, and we get on him. But at the same time I think by us having the confidence in him and still believing in him helps him and makes him feel like he has to step up and play better. Coming off the bench I think kind of bothered him at first but at the same time now he has a chance to see different things, match ups, and what a guy can do because he’s going to end up guarding that guy down the stretch at some point. I think it’s really helped him. Putting him in the starting lineup helped him mature and gain his confidence and get comfortable and now bringing him off the bench is really working out for us as well. He still has the starter’s confidence.”
Williams has started in 26 games this season and averaged 8.2 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 2.0 blocks in those starts. But with the return of center Nenad Krstic (left knee rehabilitation) he has been moved back to the second unit.
“I had no problem with it man,” said Williams of the move. “I knew all along that Nenad is one of the staples of our franchise, of our team, and knowing all along I would be better suited coming off the bench with the spark of energy I have.”
“Coming off the bench, my presence is much more felt because the game has already had its own kind of feel. With me starting, the feel was different. So now me coming off the bench I can make an impact just because of my presence on the court. I knew the day was coming when I was going to be back on the bench this year.”
Having the chance to be a starter, however, definitely helped him with his “confidence and everything. It definitely helped and made me feel like I could be a special player in this league. I appreciate Coach Frank for the experience.”
“He’s probably more comfortable coming off the bench as an energy guy, a game-changer, a guy who can help make a couple of momentum changing plays,” said Frank. “But yet all that experience he got was absolutely necessary in order for him to contribute the way he has...”
Now -- back to that whole only-played-for-four-years thing.
Did Sean have any inkling, even with as late as he came to the game, that he had the potential to do something in basketball?
“I knew because of the way I played defense,” he says.
“That summer – my first summer playing AAU basketball – I played with the Dallas Mustangs and all I did was play defense and I had like five or six blocks a game. So, I knew I had a special talent blocking shots.”
As Sean sat talking, he was adeptly dribbling a basketball underneath his legs, back-and-forth. Then, he purposely dribbled the ball off his foot a few times.
“I could play defense,” said Sean of those first AAU days. “But man -- on offense, it was literally just like that (ball off the foot) every time.”
He has certainly gotten better and while coaches and teammates are hard on him, he is soaking it in like a sponge. They are being hard on him because they know what he can be. They know the potential.
“Everybody…on the team is always talking to me, always trying to help me become a better player and I just try to soak up every word of it. I know they just want the best for me out there on the court. So that does give me confidence that they would see something in me to try to help me. I just appreciate my teammates and the only way I feel like I can show my appreciation is by going all out.”
Again, imagine: he’s only really been playing for four or five years.
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