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South grad plays in front of hometown

ATLANTA - The last time Louis Williams played in Atlanta was late February, when his No. 1 South Gwinnett Comets lost to eventual state champion Wheeler 84-80 in an epic Class AAAAA quarterfinal game.

Though his team came up short, Williams scored 44 in that contest to cap a legendary high school career.

On Friday night, Williams returned home for the first time in his professional career as his Philadelphia 76ers took on the Atlanta Hawks at Philips Arena.

Though the rookie scored a bit less than he did the last time he was in Atlanta - 44 points less, to be exact - it was still an exciting night for the three-time Daily Post Player of the Year.

"It felt good," said Williams, who played 31⁄2 minutes in the 76ers' 111-108 loss to the Hawks. "I felt like I contributed solidly in my two or three minutes, and I gave (Allen Iverson) a break."

Williams, who had played only 19 minutes all season coming into Friday night, got his most extensive first-half action of the year in front of the hometown crowd.

It was an early Christmas present from head coach Maurice Cheeks, who inserted the 19-year-old point guard into the game at the start of the second quarter, with Philadelphia trailing 30-25.

"He's from Atlanta, I wanted to give him the opportunity to get out on the floor," Cheeks said. "This is his home and I wanted to give him a chance to get out there."

Said Williams: "Coach Cheeks is a former player, so he understands what's going on. He understands I have a lot of people out there looking forward to seeing me play ... so he understands, he's human."

Twelve seconds into his Philips Arena debut, Williams was called for a kicked-ball violation. Seconds later, he stole a pass from Hawks' rookie Salim Stoudamire and took off down court, where he missed a shot near the top of the key.

He was called for a foul at the 11:21 mark and subsequently had Stoudamire - one of the best pure shooters in the league - drain two jump shots over him.

Williams' nice entry pass led to a basket at the 9:11 mark of the second quarter, and when he was pulled with 8:30 left in the second quarter the 76ers were trailing by three.

"I think I did OK," Williams said. "I didn't turn the ball over, that's the major thing ... because at the point guard position, they expect you to get those guys in position to score the basketball. And you really can't do that if you're turning it over."

That was the extent of the action for Williams on the night. Though he played less than four minutes, it was still quite a thrill for his friends, family and former coach to see him in an NBA game.

"This was never going to happen to me," South head coach Roger Fleetwood said from the courtside seat Williams got for him. "This isn't supposed to happen to a high school basketball coach that coaches at a public school.

"But to happen to a guy from Brown County, Indiana, you've got to be kidding me."

Williams left 35 tickets for family and friends for the Friday night game. More than a few were wearing vintage 76ers' jerseys with Williams' name on the back.

"I'm really excited for my nieces and nephews," Williams said. "Those are the people that look up to me the most, out of everybody. So to see them cheering and trying to get on the Jam Cam and all that, that was just great to me.

"That was their first time seeing me as an NBA basketball player, so it probably blew them away, to see an uncle in the NBA."