As Jay Williams works out for NBA teams in what he hopes will be the last stage of his arduous comeback, there have been numerous reminders of why he is going through draft-style evaluations rather than relaxing after his fourth professional season.
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and reigning Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger made national news June 12 when he was hit by a car while riding his motorcycle without a helmet. A week later marked the third anniversary of Williams' similar near-fatal crash.
On June 19, 2003, Williams, fresh off his promising rookie year, crashed his new Yamaha R6 motorcycle into a light pole, fracturing his pelvis, tearing three main ligaments in his left knee and severing the major nerve in his left leg. Doctors were not sure the former National Player of the Year at Duke would ever walk again, let alone play in the NBA.
But after three months in the hospital and nearly three years of training-much of it on Duke's campus-Williams believes he is ready to return to the game he loves. He has spent the spring training with Connecticut standout Marcus Williams, who will likely be the first point guard taken in the June 28 draft, and has worked out for Toronto and Philadelphia, with several other auditions scheduled.
"I'm definitely confident I'm going to play somewhere," the former Blue Devil said following his workout with the 76ers. "Somebody's going to give me the opportunity, somebody's going to believe in me. I guarantee you if they believe in me they're going to have a soldier on their team because I'm a fighter."
Williams has impressed scouts by showing little hesitation despite rarely playing competitively in the three years since his accident. The 24-year old does not have the same first step and explosiveness that made him a terror in his three years with the Blue Devils and the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. His lateral quickness has also been a concern, but Williams believes the maturity he has gained will make up for his diminished physical skills.
"I think he's back," 76ers president and former Duke standout Billy King said. "I'm not saying he's back to the point of when he was drafted, but I think he's back to the level that I think he can play in this league."
Williams, who no longer rides motorcycles, said that despite the years he lost, the accident benefited him by setting straight priorities that may have been lost in the fast-paced world of an NBA rookie.
"You take your family for granted, you take fans for granted," Williams said. "You're caught up in the moment, caught up in playing time, how many points did I score, my contract's coming up, what does the coach think.
"For me, the accident was the best thing that could have happened to me. My pride and my joy is my family."
Williams said he has remodeled his game from his high scoring days to more resemble the pass-first style of Steve Nash. And while he is determined to make it back to playing in the NBA, Williams is quick to put the game in perspective.
"That time could have been taken away from me forever," Williams said. "I could have died at 22. Here I am-a guy who everyone thought may never walk again is here playing basketball."
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