Williams working hard to realize NBA dream
MAY 29, 2013 12:10p ET
Williams was back in his home state of Minnesota on Wednesday for the Timberwolves' pre-draft workout at Target Center. It's basketball's equivalent of a job interview: a chance for players like Williams who are on the fringe of being drafted to showcase their skills in front of a number of NBA executives.
One of those executives on hand Wednesday was new Timberwolves director of basketball operations Flip Saunders. A former Gopher himself, Saunders attended several games at Williams Arena on the Minnesota campus this year, so he knows what Williams is capable of.
Speaking to reporters Wednesday, Saunders didn't sound too sure that Williams' skill set will translate to the NBA level.
"Everyone knows he's always been a great athlete, but at this level you just don't get by on athleticism," Saunders said. "He's tested out great athletically, but it's a different story when you have to play against people. That's usually how we play games, against people."
There's also the question of what position Williams would be able to play in the NBA. At 6-foot-7 and 200 pounds, he's undersized for a power forward, the position he primarily played in college. He doesn't shoot well enough to play shooting guard — he connected on just 20.5 percent of his 3-pointers during his senior season. Williams said he sees himself as a small forward at the next level, but Saunders wasn't sold on that idea.
"I think for us, more than anything, we don't look at the position," Saunders said. "We look at if he's a player. If he's a player the way coach (Rick) Adelman's system is he can find a way to play."
Williams burst onto the scene at Minnesota as a freshman during the 2009-10 season. While he averaged just 4.2 points and 1.6 rebounds per game in his first year, Williams' athleticism was evident. The Robbinsdale Cooper graduate scored in double-figures in his first three games, including 14 points in his college debut and scored a season-high 17 points two games later.
Based on the potential he showed early on as a freshman, some draft websites mentioned his name as a future lottery pick. But Williams never lived up to those expectations and his game didn't develop much at Minnesota. He averaged 6.8 points and 3.5 rebounds as a sophomore before having his best season during his junior year, when he scored 12.2 points and grabbed 5.6 boards.
Those numbers took a dip during his junior season to 10.1 points and 5.0 rebounds per game. He's now become a player on the fringe of even being drafted.
"It's been pretty tough, trying to live up to the expectations, especially after being in the talk of being a lottery pick after freshman year," Williams said. "Having my consistency be so up and down during those four years at the U, it was tough to really live up to the expectations. But that's part of it. I signed up to go to college to play ball and I knew all that comes with it. It's just a grind now. I've got to keep working hard so I can go out there and fulfill my dream."
The most recent mock draft on DraftExpress.com doesn't have Williams being selected at all but has his former Gophers teammate, Trevor Mbakwe, going 50th overall to Atlanta. Meanwhile, NBADraft.net has Williams as the third-to-last pick in the second and final round.
Mbakwe didn't take part in the Timberwolves' workout since he had already worked out at the NBA Draft Combine in Chicago as well as a workout in New Jersey. Saunders said both Mbakwe and Williams will be brought in for individual workouts leading up to next months' draft.
Williams has kept in touch with Mbakwe since their season ended, as both are going through similar situations. But they haven't made a bet just yet on which of the two former Gophers forwards will hear their name called first on draft night.
"We'll soon make that bet, don't worry," Williams said. "You'll hear about it. I'm sure Trev will tweet about it."
Williams has two more workouts lined up in Houston and Detroit before the draft. If he doesn't get drafted — there's a good chance he might not — and doesn't catch onto a team as an undrafted free agent, Williams said he's open to playing overseas, a path that would still allow him to get paid to play the game he loves.
"If that was the case I'd definitely do it," he said. "Anything to help me get to my dream, that's the NBA. If that's going to have to be overseas for a couple years, then so be it."
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