November 4, 2010
Lou Williams is ready to make his mark in the league.
By Bethlehem Shoals
Today, Philly’s Lou Williams is one of the most promising young guards in the league. He’s a fan fa vorite, a maker of dynamic plays, and the kind of guy who likes to make it happen whether he’s starting or coming off the bench.
Now entering his sixth season, the 24 year-old speedster has established himself as a valuable part of the team’s rotation.
In 2005 Williams jumped to the pros straight out of high school—almost unheard of for any guard, much less an undersized scorer. And yet here he is today. Maybe the finest player in the history of Georgia high school hoops, Williams skipped that chapter where he led some school to collegiate glory. Instead, he was up in the big leagues, thrust into a man’s game as a teen, learning on the job in the world’s most highpriced sink or swim workplaces. When Williams made the decision to go pro, draft observers were stunned by his audacity. They figured he must have confidence to spare, if not outright cockiness.
To hear Lou tell it, though, it was only when he found himself in training camp that he actually believed he could make it at the highest level.
“I didn’t realize it until I was actually on a pro team. I was 18 when I got drafted, so in high school I was beating up on kids my own age. Then you go to the next level, skip college, and my first real challenge was when I was actually in the league.” says Williams. “That’s when I realized, once I got through training camp and was dealing with practices and was starting to have some success, that’s when I realized that I was able to hold my own at such a young age. That’s when it really clicked for me.”
Williams spent his first few years waiting and learning. As a second-round pick, he didn’t even waltz into the league expected to make a difference immediately—or, on the other side, being scrutinized if he failed to do so. But his minutes climbed every year, and although he didn’t become a starter until 2009-10, Williams had already established himself as one of Philly’s go-to guys. For Lou, this is one of the things he takes the most pride in as a player. Not the moves, or the scoring explosions, but having the chance to compete when it really matters.
“In my career I’ve been a starter and come off the bench, but no matter what I’ve always been there. I was always in the game when it was crunch time to win. I think it was something I realized probably my senior year in high school. Once it was time to win, I think the game started getting easier for me. I think it was one of those things that just kind of clicked for me. As I got older that’s something I realized,” says Lou.
This humility, and flexibility, is going to be key to Williams’s career. Philadelphia has recently come into a gaggle of talented youngsters. Jrue Holiday looks like the latest entrant into the new generation of pure point guards on a mission; this past summer, they drafted Evan Turner second overall, which might push Lou back to the bench. Williams, like the Sixers themselves, finds himself again at a crossroads, and potentially lost in the shuffle.
He’s not worried, though. Williams knows what he brings to the table—leadership, instant offense inside and out, everimproving defense, and playmaking—and also feels he can pass some of this down to the younger cats like Holiday and Turner. At the same time, Williams knows he’s hardly aged in traditional pro-years. He’s like a bridge between the veterans and the new guard.
“Well, I have a lot of experience, but I think we’re all still learning together. Even though I’m going into my sixth season, last year was the first time I actually started. My sixth (might have said “fifth here”) season will be my rookie season, just going into it with a fresh start. You know, I’ve had a lot of ups and downs with different coaches and various things, so I’m just learning on the fly. I’m still a young guy. I still feel like I have a lot of basketball ahead of me.”
Hearing who Williams has learned from, though, speaks volumes of the kind of player he’s become—and still aspires to be. As a youth, versatile Orlando guard Penny Hardaway was his idol. Then in high school, he fell under the spell of Allen Iverson, who would eventually be his Philly teammate for three seasons. The first two, he sat and watched AI. Then, when Iverson, returned for a brief Philadelphia stint in 2009-10, Williams got the opportunity to share the backcourt with him.
Iverson “isn’t a big advice guy”. But that doesn’t mean Williams didn’t learn from his hero: “He’ll show you how to do it – “this is how you do it.”’ There’s also the teaching by example: “I picked up on his toughness. Broken bones, if he’s hurt, no matter what, at 7 o’clock he’s going to be there, he’s going to play his butt off for you and be in that foxhole with you. He’s one of the toughest little dudes I know, and that’s one of the things I picked up by being around him.”
Again, that tells you as much about Louis Williams, a player whose true potential is still just beginning to be realized, as it does his All-Star mentor. Because if there’s one thing you need to know, it’s that Williams has a passion for the game that goes against every cliche you hear about lazy, overpaid athletes coasting through the regular season.
What makes him get up for every game, even if it’s in the dead of winter, halfway through the season, with little seemingly on the line that night? Pride and love for the game.
“I look at every game like it’s brand new. I still go in the locker room and say “wow, it really has my name on it.” I still look at my shoes and say “wow, these shoes really have my number on them.” This is actually me, I’m actually on a pro team and I’m actually living out my dream. I look at every single game like that. I don’t take those moments for granted, so that’s one of the things that makes me night in and night out go out there and compete my ass off, that I don’t take not one game for granted.”
That’s the same kind of fire that made Iverson an icon, but with a humility and ceaseless work ethic that will take Lou far in this league. He can pack YouTube mixes with his highlight plays, but at the end of the day, it’s about digging in and competing. They thought Williams wouldn’t stick in the league because he had no position, and just liked to shoot. Boy, were they ever wrong.
Bethlehem Shoals is a regular contributor to AOL FanHouse and a founding member of FreeDarko, whose Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History comes out this October. He has written for Sports Illustrated, Slate, The Nation, and Spin. In his spare time, he ties together crayfish until they pop and makes it funky.