EACH WEEK, WE'LL TAKE A LOOK BACK AT A MEMORABLE MOMENT IN ILLINI HISTORY, THANKS TO THE WORDS OF THE NEWS-GAZETTE
This week: The biggest question surrounding Meyers Leonard leading up to the NBA draft is his maturity level. That was the case for Frank Williams, too, heading into the 2002 NBA draft.
Headline: Question followed Williams
Date: July 2, 2002
By BRETT DAWSON
CHAMPAIGN — They asked it in Orlando. It came up in New Jersey. They pondered it in Portland.
Everywhere Frank Williams went between the end of his junior season at Illinois and last week's NBA draft, the question followed him.
We know you can play, but will you play hard for 82 games?
'Every interview, every workout I went to basically said it in those words,' said Williams, who visited C-U on Monday for a workout with Illinois assistant Wayne McClain. 'But I told them I'll prove a lot of people wrong.'
One of the few teams that didn't question the consistency of Williams' effort was the one he ended up with, the New York Knicks. And they probably would have asked, too, except Williams never interviewed with the team that traded for him after he was selected 25th by the Denver Nuggets.
Still, word travels fast.
'That's what the word is up there,' Williams said, 'that I don't play all the time.'
Williams said the best way to get him to play all the time is simply to let him play. All the time.
No classes. No study sessions. Limited practice time.
That's the life of an NBA player, and it sounds a lot like basketball heaven to Williams, who admitted during the season that the distractions of day-to-day college life sometimes wore on him.
'It's not like I'm going to school now where I have to get up too early,' Williams said. 'All you do is play games. Sometimes they practice, sometimes they don't. You're going to have a little rest, but at the same time you're going to have to perform night in and night out, and I believe that's the best fit for me.'
And he believes New York is as good a fit as any.
There was sweating on draft night, nervousness as names that weren't his flashed on the TV screen. Williams could have gone anywhere from 16 on down, but he didn't wind up just anywhere.
He wound up in New York.
'That's a good break for me,' he said. 'I'll take that over anything.'
The rent will be higher, of course, but Williams will be able to afford that once he signs a guaranteed three-year contract. A shoe deal is in the works, and it could go through as early as this week.
Signing with an agent guarantees some early flash money, and Williams already has upgraded his ride, trading in his rugged old Cadillac for a new model — an Escalade, the SUV that's a favorite among NBA stars.
'I got to stay with the Cadillacs,' he said.
The Knicks are most interested, though, in how Williams will drive the basketball.
Devoid of a consistent dribble penetrator during last season's 30-52 debacle, New York traded starting point guard Mark Jackson.
The Knicks still are shopping for starting point guards — reports in New York have them pursuing Cleveland's Andre Miller, Dallas' Nick Van Exel and New Orleans' Baron Davis — but coach Don Chaney said Williams will get his shot when training camp opens.
There's plenty to do before then.
Williams spent a day last week in New York when he flew into town for a news conference with Antonio McDyess, the big catch in the Knicks' trade with the Nuggets.
That was his first of what will be many up-close experiences with the New York media.
'There's a bunch of them,' Williams said.
On Sunday, Williams leaves for Boston, where he'll play for the Knicks' entry in the Boston summer league, a two-week series of games for rookies and free agents.
He also has to shop around for a place to live, and there's the matter of deciding how many members of the Williams clan will follow.
Mother Mary Williams might stay in Peoria another year to allow Frank's younger brother to finish high school in his hometown.
Williams has much to do, but already his thoughts are turning to the fall and his first game at Madison Square Garden, the so-called 'World's Most Famous Arena' and the factor Williams singled out as the best part about playing for the Knicks.
'A lot of legends played on that floor,' Williams said. 'I just gotta go up there and try to be one of them.'