Staff Photo: John Bohn South Gwinnett graduate Lou Williams of the Atlanta Hawks, speaks to students while the Hawks hold a team practice at South Gwinnett High School recently.
ATLANTA -- He left as Louis Williams and he returned as Lou. But otherwise, the South Gwinnett graduate hasn't really changed all that much.
The new Atlanta Hawk still loves to get up and down the court and put the ball in the basket, which he did at a record pace in high school. And he does it all with flair.
Lou does sound more appropriate than Louis.
Williams says he would have liked to have been referred to that way all along. In the NBA, though, it took a while before he felt comfortable enough to ask that his first name be shortened to something less formal.
"With a nickname, you have to have a stat line to match it," the 26-year-old guard said. "It took me a few years to become Lou."
Williams went through a transition period in the NBA after bypassing college. But he was runner-up in the voting for sixth-man of the year award last season while with Philadelphia and ready to give the Hawks the same kind of lift off the bench this season.
"This is my eighth season and it's the most excited I've ever been," said Williams, who signed a three-year deal worth nearly $16 million as a free agent. "I'm very comfortable here. What the Hawks will do this season is very similar to the way the Sixers played and I'm almost in the exact same role. Plus, this is home."
That is no small matter.
"Several teams wanted me, but once the offers were similar, it was a no-brainer," Williams said. "I started dreaming about playing for the Hawks when I was in middle school."
Williams will get his chance Friday night when the Hawks open against the Houston Rockets at Philips Arena and fans will get their opportunity to yell "Lou!" when Williams drills a 3-pointer or slams down a dunk on the fast break.
A part of the crowd is sure to go back a long way with Williams. That's the good part. But people wanting tickets can be a problem for any NBA player in his hometown.
"I have five season tickets and that will be it," Williams said. "Everybody else has to pay like any fan. People wanting tickets can be a problem and costly, too. Everyone wants to be a VIP."
But the hard line on tickets hardly means that Williams is tight with his money or his time in the community. The Lou Williams Foundation, begun in Philadelphia, will now benefit the Atlanta area.
"We're going to get involved at Thanksgiving and Christmas," said Williams, who always has a summer basketball camp at South Gwinnett. "We'll work through the Hawks community' programs and independently as well."
Williams is just one of the many new players on the Hawks this season. Danny Ferry was brought in as general manager to remake the team and the built for the future despite five straight playoff appearances.
Gone are Joe Johnson and his big contract. Also gone is the Hawks' slow-paced offense. The team promises to run and gun. With Williams and Devin Harris joining Jeff Teague in the backcourt, that is now possible.
"I've always been a Lou Williams fan," coach Larry Drew said. "He's certainly a welcome addition. I'd rather have him in a Hawks jersey than playing against him. He's instant offense."
Williams, who can play both shooting guard and point guard, will interchange with both Harris and Teague, giving Drew flexibility.
"Most scorers are a little reluctant to pass the ball," the coach said. "But Lou is a good passer and a willing passer. Guys like playing with him. He gets the open man the ball."
Williams, who last season became the first reserve to lead his team in scoring since Dell Curry of Charlotte in 1993-94, finished behind James Harden for the NBA's sixth man of the year. But Harden was traded by Oklahoma City to Houston and will now be a starter.
"I hope I can be in the running again," Williams said. "I'm excited about what this team can do and I want to be part of that success."
Although Williams is back home, that doesn't mean that he can spend all his time when the Hawks aren't on the road at the house in Grayson he bought several years ago while with Philadelphia.
"That commute is a little long for me day in and day out, so I had to find me a little crash pad downtown and split my time," Williams said.
But as of Friday, the former South Gwinnett sensation will finally get a real "home" game in the NBA. It will be worth the Atlanta traffic.
Opponent: Houston Rockets
When: Friday, 7:35 p.m.
Where: Philips Arena
LOU WILLIAMS FILETeam: Atlanta Hawks
Age: Turned 26 last Saturday
High school: South Gwinnett
2011-12 stats: averaged 14.9 points and 3.5 assists for Philadelphia and was second in the voting for the NBA's sixth man of the year.
Worth noting: Last season became the first reserve to lead his team in scoring since Dell Curry of Charlotte in 1993-94. ... Was named Mr. Georgia Basketball two straight years and won the Naismith Award as the national player of the as a senior at South Gwinnett. ... Signed with Georgia, but declared for the NBA draft and was a second-round pick of Philadelphia in 2005. ... For his career, has averaged 11.3 points and 3.0 assists. ... Does charitable work through the Lou Williams Foundation.