Three years after he was taken 11th in the NBA Draft, former U of L star Terrence Williams is already out of the league.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The phone call came only one day before the 2009 NBA Draft. It was a friend who was an NBA assistant coach. His team had a valuable first-round lottery pick.
It was a team intrigued by University of Louisville guard Terrence Williams. It was also a team terrified that burning a Top 10 pick on Williams was as dangerous as investing in inflatable furniture rafts.
Williams could be a double-figure scorer – or he could play his way out of the NBA into China.
This team had heard the stories that Williams could be selfish and pout, that he had clashed with U of L coach Rick Pitino in a huddle during the Cards' 2009 Elite Eight NCAA Tournament game against Michigan State in Indianapolis, that he was a risk in the locker room, especially if things weren't going well.
But they also knew that Williams could pass, defend and run better than anybody his size (220 pounds stretched solidly over his 6-foot-6 body) in that draft.
"I thought he was a perfect pro player in terms of his body, in terms of his defense, in terms of his passing," Pitino said.
"If he's not top five material, he's top six on any team," said guard Peyton Siva, who followed Williams from Seattle to U of L. "He's so athletic, so big and he can pass."
That opinion was not unanimous. Not across the NBA. Scouts loved the fierce energy T-Will brought to the court. They feared how he would respond if he wasn't getting enough playing time.
That's why teams were calling Williams' former teammates, coaches, friends and media guys who had covered him at Louisville. They had a lot of questions – about Williams' personality, not his jump shot.
On Draft Night it certainly showed. Williams slid to the 11th pick. The New Jersey Nets took Williams, ahead of Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson and Darren Collison.
Three years later, Williams has not stopped sliding.
"A lot of college guys, when they go into the pros try to be something they're not," Pitino said. "You've got to stick with what you do while you're working on (what you need to improve)."
Pitino said this week that he's heard Williams is bound for a season in – gulp -- China. Former Card Andre McGee is one of T-Will's best friends. McGee has also been told that China is his next destination as the 2012-13 NBA season tips off this week. Don't rule out the NBA Developmental League.
"I've been surprised, especially with his talent level," said McGee, director of basketball operations for U of L. "That's just how it works sometimes. At his size with his skill set, he's so versatile, you don't see a lot of guys like him.
"He's matured. He realized this is a cutthroat league. It's a league of men. Professionalism is a big thing. He's tried to solidify himself without being able to play a lot.
"He's trying to grasp the eye of a GM or a team saying, ‘If you guys give me a chance, I haven't proven much, but if you're taking a risk on me, I will be worth it.' "
Over the last three-plus seasons, the Nets, Rockets, Kings and Pistons, all losing teams, have shown they do not believe T-Will can help them. This is the list of NBA coaches who benched him: Lawrence Frank, Kiki Vandeweghe, Avery Johnson, Rick Adelman and Kevin McHale.
Pitino said he was told during the summer that Williams was going to get a two-year contract from Sacramento, which seemed reasonable after he finished last season impressively for the Kings, averaging nearly 9 points, 4 rebounds and 3 steals over the final 18 games.
No deal. So Williams went to training camp this season with Detroit, which cut him nearly 10 days ago.
"It definitely is strange," Siva said. "Hopefully he gets his head straight and shows a team how talented he really is. He's one of the biggest reasons that I came here."
Pitino, McGee and Siva have not spoken with Williams since he was released. Williams' Twitter feed (TheRealTWill) has mostly gone cold, although he did deliver this message last week:
"Do not worry or be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will have worries and anxieties of its own. Sufficient for each day is its own trouble."
Terrence Williams has the ability to play effectively in the NBA. He's already earned more than $6.6 million. But he will likely have to settle for playing overseas or grinding his way on the bus trips in the D- League.
Until he makes his way back, Williams has become a fascinating example that there are no basketball guarantees.