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Williams Approach Takes Terrible Turn

Thursday, September 11, 2008 11:41am
By: Accsports Staff

July 1, 2003 DURHAM — Even as an All-American at Duke, Jay Williams was still just a kid. That was part of his allure. Surrounded at times in the Duke locker room by wise old Shane Battier, moody Dahntay Jones, polished Mike Dunleavy and somber Carlos Boozer, Williams stuck out because of his enthusiasm, his energy, his freshness.

He was one of the best players in the country, and he was smart enough to pursue and even attain his Duke degree in three years, but deep down inside he was a kid, and he never tried to hide that. He smiled and giggled when he was happy, he cried when he was sad and he generally carried on as if life was something to be attacked.

That's why the people who knew Williams when he was at Duke — coaches, teammates, staffers, even sportswriters — were saddened but not completely surprised at the news that he had suffered potentially career-ending leg and pelvis injuries after crashing his motorcycle June 19 outside Chicago.

The average basketball fan may have been shocked and even angered that Williams would risk his career by doing something as foolish as riding a motorcycle without either a license or a helmet, as some reports indicated. But those who knew Williams at Duke shouldn't have been surprised. Hopping on a motorcycle and risking up to $100 million in lifetime basketball earnings was vintage Williams, the boyish side that made him so charismatic on the court and in the locker room.

Williams apologized to Chicago Bulls general manager John Paxson the day after the wreck, knowing what his injuries could mean to a franchise that selected him No. 2 overall in 2002 with the hope that he would lead the team out of its post-Michael Jordan malaise. Paxson said the apology wasn't necessary.

“He made a mistake,” Paxson told reporters in Chicago. “We all make them. Most of us don't have to live with these consequences.”

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, a Chicago native, said he snuck into Williams' hospital room in the aftermath to see his former player.

“Obviously, we're all concerned,” Krzyzewski said. “He's got a long road ahead. The good news as far as the timeline has gone is, when it first happened, I think, as he was lying on the ground there the thought in his mind was that he's paralyzed, that, ëI can't move my legs.' He was very fortunate to be right near this hospital.

“When they got him in, because of what happened with an artery that supplies blood to the left leg, they were concerned about how long the leg had gone without blood. The extreme case would be if the leg did not get blood, there would be a chance of amputation, but that was dismissed right away. That Friday morning, he was already moving his left foot, so all that was good.”

Williams becomes the third prominent Duke player in the past decade to suffer a career-threatening injury after turning pro, joining Bobby Hurley, who was in a near-fatal car accident, and Grant Hill (basketball-related ankle injury). Those kinds of bad breaks have contributed to the notion that Duke basketball players, for all their greatness in college, have been NBA disappointments.

“I don't think there's a plan to get Duke players or anything,” Krzyzewski said. “Bobby and Jason are really the ones who have been (in) accidents. Grant's (injury) was player-related. Each has its own case. Bobby was hit by a driver under the influence (of alcohol). In Bobby's case, Bobby was lucky to be alive. Five minutes later — and if he wasn't in amazing shape — Bobby would be dead. Jason's is different, and Grant's certainly is different. …

“I'm just glad we have that many players out there. And if any of them have problems, we're here to support them and give them the best care.”

Williams' injury shows the foresight he and his family had during the 2000-01 season, when they decided to skip the 2001 NBA draft — in which Williams could have been taken No. 1 overall — for a third year at Duke. He used that year to earn his degree, improving his odds of success even if this sort of catastrophe occurred to his basketball career.

Unfortunately, the catastrophe did occur — in large part because Williams was being a kid. Fortunately, he survived the accident. With a degree from Duke in hand, he still can be a winner whether or not he plays another professional basketball game.

“We let our guys be human beings, too,” Krzyzewski said. “I'm not going to follow these kids around every second and say, ëThis is good, this is bad.' You allow them to become adults, and you give them guidance depending on the decisions that they've made. Jay's made great decisions throughout his life. That's why he's with the Bulls, and that's why he graduated in three years and all those things. This is an unfortunate setback.”

Many Watching Humphries Case

When Duke announced it had released his son, Kris, from a basketball scholarship, William Humphries sounded an ominous tone when he said, “There are reasons, and they will come out during the appeal.”

More than a month later, those sound like hollow words. Unless something very strange — and very unlikely — happened between Kris Humphries and Duke, it looks like the kid just wanted to go somewhere for a better guarantee of playing time. There's nothing wrong with that in many ways, although most observers would argue that Humphries should have made that decision before signing with the Blue Devils, not after — and definitely not in late May, three months before he was to report to Duke.

Barring something unforeseen — and again, unexpected — surfacing, Kris Humphries apparently took his first hard look at the Duke roster in the spring and realized a starting position, and even significant minutes, couldn't be guaranteed with the likes of Shavlik Randolph, Shelden Williams and Michael Thompson coming back for their sophomore years.

Once Humphries became a free agent, and before he chose his next school (Minnesota), his eligibility was thrown into question. Would he have to sit out the 2003-04 season as a transfer, or would the National Letter of Intent Steering Committee approve his appeal for immediate playing time? That answer would come down to the extenuating circumstances surrounding Humphries' decision to leave Duke. As in, were there any?

William Humphries suggested there were such circumstances with his vague remarks.

“There are reasons,” he said, “and they will come out during the appeal.”

As far as Minnesota knows, William Humphries was just letting off steam. If there are extenuating circumstances, the Gophers are unaware of them. Other players around the country have been freed from their letters of intent because of family illnesses, NCAA violations or coaching changes, but those don't appear to apply to Humphries.

That's why Frank Kara, the Minnesota compliance director, doesn't know if the steering committee's recent trend — allowing players to get out of their letters without missing a year of competition — will apply to this case.

“Some of the more serious reasons (for players to appeal to the steering committee) have been slam dunks for the committee to approve,” Kara said. “There hasn't been a lot of precedence in a case like this.”

Interestingly, one loophole in the letter of intent process comes when a school denies a signee admission to the university. In that circumstance, his letter of intent immediately becomes invalid, and he's free to sign and play elsewhere immediately, without concern for any appeals process or other NCAA complications.

In Humphries' case, Duke obviously decided not to take that route. (Yes, Humphries is a good student, but of all schools Duke could have made the admissions-denial argument better than almost anyone.) At the same time, the Blue Devils did grant him a release, avoiding a scenario in which Humphries would have had to sit out two full seasons before being eligible elsewhere.

Instead, Duke took the middle road with Humphries, essentially cutting him a break but not sending him away with a bouquet of flowers, either. The rest is up to the NCAA.