As he did for South, Williams dominates in NBA summer league

It had to start somewhere.

If Louis Williams is going to have the basketball career he expects, if he's going to be the superstar he wants to be, then it all had to start somewhere.

And maybe this was it.

In a college gymnasium in Salt Lake City, Utah.

In the middle of July.

"I tried to make a statement," Williams said. "I went out there and played hard and some good things happened for me. Hopefully that will translate to the season."

The former South Gwinnett scoring machine had already experienced a year in the NBA when he arrived in Utah for the recent Rocky Mountain Revue summer league.

But most of that year was on a bench, watching his Philadelphia 76ers' teammates compile a 38-44 record and miss the Eastern Conference playoffs.

Williams, who was drafted in the middle of the second round in 2005 after a record-breaking high school career, played in 30 games during his rookie season, averaging 4.8 minutes and 1.9 points per game.

It was hard for him to adjust to his new role, which is to say he barely had a role at all. He was the team's third-string point guard and got most of his minutes at the end of blowouts.

With that in mind, Williams went to the Rocky Mountain Revue determined.

Not just to show 76ers head coach Maurice Cheeks that he's capable of being a good NBA guard, but to show the rest of the basketball community that the 2005 Naismith National High School Player of the Year can still dominate games when he's on the court.

"I don't know if I always felt like I was the best player out there," he said, "but I felt confident in what I was doing. I started to get really comfortable in the offense and what we were doing."

Despite already having a year of service in the NBA, the 19-year-old Williams was still the third youngest player at the Rocky Mountain Revue.

"That was a big joke all week," he said. "I was the youngest player, but I was also like the oldest player at the same time. I would tell the guys to get me water and all that. We had a good joke about that."

He was also one of the best players there.

Going up against rosters full of higher-drafted players, Williams averaged 22 points and a league-leading 5.3 assists per game.

His scoring average was good for second in the league (behind the Hawks' Marvin Williams, who averaged 23.2). He also led the league in minutes played, was second in free-throw percentage, third in steals and 10th in field goal percentage.

He was one of the league leaders in free throws attempted as well - all the more impressive considering the 6-foot-1 Williams was one of the smallest players in the Revue.

The only negative about his performance in Utah involved his turnovers. He committed a league-high six per game, including two games in which he had eight apiece.

"When you look at the numbers, I was turning the ball over a lot," Williams said. "And Coach Cheeks told me a lot of that was just from careless passing, but he wasn't killing me about it. If you look at the games and the turnovers, they were in situations where I was trying to make plays. It's not like the ball was just getting stolen from me.

"I was just trying to make plays, and overall they seemed to be extremely pleased with me."

The South Gwinnett grad knows he has plenty of work to do in that regard, but also realizes - just like his current coaches and teammates - that he's still just a teenager and is still learning to be an NBA point guard.

"I've got to be a little bit more careful," Williams said. "But I was playing 35 minutes a night and we were playing 100 miles an hour. We were playing a high tempo - it was really like we used to play in high school."

Which is a style that Williams and his teams usually excel in.

"Before we went out there I told the coaching staff, 'Just allow me to play how I play and you're going to be happy,'" he said. "And Coach Cheeks said, 'This is your team. You have the freedom to do whatever you want.'"

That freedom definitely seemed to work.

Take for instance the 76ers' second game in Utah. Trailing the hometown Jazz by double digits for much of the first three quarters, Williams led a stirring comeback that resulted in an 81-74 win.

In that game, Williams went up against Utah's Deron Williams, the No. 3 overall pick of the 2005 draft who averaged 10.8 points and 4.5 assists on his way to being named to last year's NBA All-Rookie team.

So who was the best Williams on the floor that night?

Well, the South Gwinnett grad scored 27 points and dished out five assists in the win. The former University of Illinois All-American on the other hand scored 14 points and handed out just two assists.

"This is what you've got to understand about that game," Williams said with a laugh. "We're in Utah. Their fans are acting like it's a real game. He's the No. 3 pick overall. I'm the 45th pick, straight out of high school. It was show-and-prove time and I just thought, 'Here we go.'"

The three-time Daily Post Player of the Year actually outscored Deron Williams and Jazz teammate Dee Brown - the starting backcourt for Illinois' national championship runner-up team - by himself in the seven-point win.

"I'm always looking for motivation, you know that," Williams said. "They got all the hype. And I figured being in Utah and going up against Deron and Dee, that was the biggest stage of the week. With the caliber of guys they are, I had to have a good showing."

He did just that, and perhaps kick-started his trek to NBA stardom in the process.

After all, it had to start somewhere.