Atlanta Hawks guard and South Gwinnett grad Lou Williams is recovering well from a knee injury that ended his 2012-13 season.(Photo by Scott Cunningham/NBAE via Getty Images)
The annual Lou Williams Basketball Camp, back at South Gwinnett High School this past week, played out like it has most of the seven previous years.
The main attraction laughed and joked with the youngsters, chastised the older ones for whining about no-calls and enjoyed his role as both camp instructor and referee for the four-day camp, held at the NBA guard’s alma mater.
“It’s the same but I think it stays fresh because you start seeing fresh faces,” Williams said after a session finished up this week. “On the flip side of that, you start seeing kids grow up. You have a kid who came in at 9, now he’s 13 or 14 and a lot better. You take a little pride in that because he’s going through the program, going through the process.”
For the guy in charge, this week’s camp is one of the few normalities of his offseason. His personal process in recent months is different than it’s ever been, a necessity as he comes back from a knee injury that cost him most of his debut season with his hometown Atlanta Hawks.
Williams had high hopes for the 2012-13 season, but those were dashed in January when he tore the ACL in his right knee during a game with Brooklyn. Instead of finishing the season with the Hawks, the 6-foot-1 guard went through months of rehabilitation and workouts.
Those continued this week into his youth camp.
“Every day we try to put in as much work on the rehab as we can,” Williams said. “While the campers were taking lunch, I worked out. My trainers were here from the Hawks. They sent me through an hour circuit and they get out of here and I’m back to camping. I don’t get a lunch break.”
Williams is in his second week of on-court basketball activities, tediously working his way back through months of rehab. He does gym and weight work each morning, then hits the basketball court for the evenings.
He mixes it up with activities like riding a bike.
“It’s a bike, bike,” Williams said. “We’re done with the stationery bike. I was on that thing for so long I said, ‘Never again.’ If I can get on a real bike, that’s how I’m going to rehab. I have a mountain bike and I have a cruiser. We’ll ride about five or six miles. … I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a kid. I kicked it back up when I needed it.”
Though he’s entering his ninth NBA season, Williams is still a kid himself, the benefit of jumping straight from high school to the pros. The 26-year-old went through his entire career without a significant injury until his 494th NBA game, which saw him go down in the second quarter.
He’s eager to get back on the court, but isn’t in a major rush at this point.
“We don’t really have a set time frame but we’re working toward starting when everybody else is starting,” Williams said. “I think October would put me in Month 10 and that’s the norm for this injury. I’m shooting for October like everyone else. … We really haven’t been playing with the set dates. Everybody’s rehab is different. You can’t compare Lou Williams to Derrick Rose or Iman Shumpert or Ricky Rubio. It just depends on how God’s bodies react.
“It feels almost normal to me now. I may do some things that remind me of it. Running up the stairs too many times in a day or riding my bike too much. Sometimes it’s sore. Sometimes it’s not. But it’s steady for me.”
At least Williams knew he had a spot with the Hawks upon his return. He will have some new faces around him, however.
Atlanta parted ways with leading scorer Josh Smith, lost out in the Dwight Howard sweepstakes and signed a few other free agents to fill the voids.
“I think we’re still building,” Williams said. “I think we had high expectations of landing some guys and it didn’t work out. That kind of put us back in the process of finding some other talented guys to put on the roster. Bringing Jeff (Teague) back, bringing Kyle (Korver) back was good for us. Paul Millsap was a good signing. I still think we’re moving in the right direction. It’s going to be interesting to see what team we put together when it’s all said and done.”
The Hawks also have a new coach in Mike Budenholzer, a longtime San Antonio Spurs assistant for Gregg Popovich. Williams’ early conversations with Budenholzer have gone well, with all signs pointing to the high-scoring guard in the sixth-man role he has filled most of his career.
Williams has provided instant offense in that capacity, averaging double figures in every season since 2007-08 despite starting just 47 of his 494 NBA games — 38 starts in 2009-10 and nine starts last season. He averaged 14.1 points for the Hawks before his injury in January.
“I think my role will be very similar (as a sixth man),” Williams said. “I’m excited because (Budenholzer) has coached (Manu) Ginobili for so long. Once he came in, he started mentioning how Manu would play. It was exciting to me because he’s been a huge part of the Spurs’ success over the years. When a coach wants you to play a similar role (to Ginobili), you have to be excited.”
After his most challenging offseason, Williams is just excited to be back on the court, whether it’s during his rehab workouts or running his youth camp.
“(This offseason) has just been weird,” said Williams, high-fiving his 2-year-old daughter Jada as he spoke. “I don’t feel like I’ve clocked out yet. I feel like I’m still in the season because I’ve been working. In a regular offseason, I probably wouldn’t have picked up a basketball yet to let my body recuperate. But I’ve been working all the way through since January.
“It’s been very different. I haven’t traveled as much because of the rehab schedule. You have to stay on it. We’ve been working all the way through. … I’m glad we’re over the hump now and moving forward.”