With the 2010 NBA Draft class rounding into shape, this is looking to be a big year for one-and-done freshmen: John Wall, Derrick Favors, DeMarcus Cousins, Xavier Henry, Avery Bradley, Hassan Whiteside, Lance Stephenson, Daniel Orton and Eric Bledsoe are all projected to get picked in the first or early-second round.
Another one-and-done that should hear his name called on June 24 is Latavious Williams. A product of Starkville, Miss., who did a fifth prep year at the Christian Life Center in Humble, Texas, Williams spent his “freshman” year getting paid in the D-League, but is eligible for this year’s NBA Draft. We profiled Williams in Dime #56:
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Graduating high school is scary in itself. While most outgoing seniors are worried about prom parties and future dorm buffets, that wasn’t quite the case with Latavious Williams; he was more concerned with which NBA affiliate he would get drafted to. Since the NBA instituted an age restriction for incoming draftees back in 2005 — barring anyone the chance to jump straight from the preps to the pros — Williams was undoubtedly braving the unknown. A first-rounder in the class of 2009, he was … wait, rewind. Forgot to mention that Williams was drafted to the NBA’s Development League.
Last November, the 6-8 forward hailing from Starkville, Miss., became the first high schooler to make the D-League leap and was rewarded with the 16th pick to the Tulsa 66ers. Coming out of Christian Life Center in Humble, Texas, he was considered a five-star recruit and one of the most explosive players in the country. Originally committing to Josh Pastner and Memphis, Williams’ plans changed after academic eligibility issues became a legitimate threat to derail his collegiate start time. Williams wanted to focus all of his efforts toward developing his skills, and a professional route seemed like the strongest avenue to accomplish that goal. After considering both China and Europe, Williams decided it was best to stay stateside.
“I just wanted to get better, quicker than (I would have in) college,” says Williams. “So the D-League is what I decided to do.”
In high school, Williams was a dominant player that didn’t have to worry about proper footwork, ball-handling or a solid jump shot — he could athletically power his way to the cup whenever he pleased. Thus, he has a mouth-watering upside and you can insert any hyperbole imaginable to describe this kid’s athleticism. Williams also possesses a rare combo of traits not seen across the board with his peers: he’s coachable, has a great work ethic and is modest in the public eye.
“We [at Dutt Sports] like to see a kid that’s humble about his abilities, but has a real desire to be the best he can be — and it’s there with this kid,” says Jeremiah Haylett, Williams’s attorney and general counsel at Dutt Sports Services Inc. “I think a lot of people look at him and think he’s kind of a slacker because he’s so quiet and humble about his game. But he works out constantly. He loves the sport and really attacks it. He just doesn’t vocalize that he attacks it as hard as he does.”
Haylett, along with agent Tony Dutt, help to make up the core duo of professional confidants and watchman in Williams’ entourage. Together they have witnessed a transformation from boy to man in a very short time. But his greatest asset has to be his willingness to get better — a pursuit that may very well lead him to an NBA rotation next year. When given minutes, Williams has shown flashes reminiscent of his prep days; he logged an 18-point, 18-rebound game in a loss to the Iowa Energy in late January, then dropped 14 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks against the Utah Flash four games later. That’s not to ignore the fact that Williams has had to work through his fair share of difficulties in becoming a better player.
“I didn’t know my role [coming in],” says Williams. “I didn’t know what I should do and what I shouldn’t do on the court; I didn’t know what coach wanted me to do. So, he just told me to go out there and play like I was in high school. Right now, I think things are going pretty good. I think I’m doing everything now. I just go out there and play hard and hustle, get easy buckets and rebound.”
Whereas Williams didn’t get the most auspicious of starts to his professional career — mostly dealing with inconsistent minutes and offensive awareness — his adjustment to the game has been remarkably uplifting. The D-League has provided Williams with exactly what he hoped it would: a workplace conducive to developing his talent. Under the guidance of both coach Nate Tibbetts and his teammates in Tulsa, Latavious has begun to add the long ball and post moves — something he admits as his main weaknesses — to his game. The work is paying off, as word from his camp is that scouts are getting more and more interested about Williams’ basketball future.
“I think he’ll definitely go to the League,” says Haylett. “It’ll depend on his adaptability once he gets there, but when he gets minutes, he does well. It’s pretty easy for him to get a double-double.”
The basketball world will see just how smart the Williams experiment in the D-League was on NBA Draft day. Williams’ decision to blaze a new path may ultimately prove to mark an ideal destination for other interested high school seniors.
“I would say if you want to get better and work on your game against a lot better competition, come to the D-League,” says Williams. “It’s a good look for everybody. You’re playing in front of scouts — even though you can’t get a call-up — you just go out there and play real hard and hope you get a look from the NBA.”
And Williams is definitely making the most of that look.