No matter how many games his New York Knicks win this season, no matter how many points he scores or how many minutes he plays, Shawne Williams can be seen as a success story.
It was less than one year ago when Williams, now 24, was basically out of the NBA and nearly killed his own career. In January 2010 he was arrested in his hometown Memphis, Tenn., on felony drug charges, his second arrest for drugs in three years. The former University of Memphis standout and 2006 NBA first-round draft pick pleaded guilty, and as part of his sentence was given six months’ probation. Then in July, Williams was arrested again, this time for driving with a suspended license. He was known as much for being a colossal NBA Draft bust as he was known for his run-ins with the law, seemingly destined for cautionary-tale status at best.
Once his legal situation cleared up, though, Williams — who was on the Mavs and Nets rosters last season but never played a game, and last saw action in January ’09 with the Mavs — landed a spot at Knicks’ training camp. The 6-9 small forward made the final roster, and made his NY debut last week in spot duty against the Pistons. Over the weekend, Williams scored 13 points in 20 minutes against the Hornets, and dropped 14 points (all in the fourth quarter) in Sunday’s game against Toronto. The Knicks won both games to improve to 12-9 on the season.
As he embarked on the next chapter of his career, I spoke with Williams about his road back and where it goes from here:
Dime: Do you see this as a comeback?
Shawne Williams: I always had the goal to get back in the League, it was basically on me to get back into game shape to even be suitable for an organization to look at me. I needed to get the wrinkles ironed out that were in my life.
Dime: You were still on a roster last year, but it was like you might as well have been out of the League.
SW: Even though I was still getting paid up until November 1st, I still looked at it like I was out of the League. I wasn’t dressing and I wasn’t with no organization. I had to come back around to do what I love doing, that’s playing ball.
Dime: Why the Knicks?
SW: It was between here and Charlotte as far as where I would go to training camp. It was just the right fit here. It’s been great … unimaginable, really. This (Madison Square Garden) is the last place my brother got to see me play before he passed; that was years back at the preseason NIT. It’s all surreal. When I found out I’d made the team, I thanked God and the coaches for giving me the opportunity.
Dime: Going into camp, when you looked at the Knicks roster, what did you think of your chances?
SW: I knew it was gonna be tough. You gotta understand, I know I’m a pro ballplayer, and I know coaches and GM’s know I’m a pro ballplayer. But it’s all the other things, the off-the-court things. I knew if I could get all of that mellowed out and don’t come in with a lot of baggage, I could contribute.
Dime: What is your role on the team?
SW: Whatever the coaches need. I can play the four, the three. I can be a defensive stopper, rebounder. If they need a shooter, I feel like I can shoot. Whenever my number is called, whatever happens I’m ready for. I’m not going in looking to hit 20 or 30 points; Coach (Mike) D’Antoni‘s offense is so great, you’re gonna get the open looks, it’s just a matter of making shots.
Dime: What did you have to do to leave the baggage behind?
SW: I had to make a life change. I had to leave everything alone that I was doing and the people I was hanging with. I mean, I knew I wasn’t doing the right thing because I wasn’t in the League. I needed that time to be my myself and just focus on basketball.
Dime: Is just making it back to the NBA the success story? Or do you have to do something big in the League to feel like you’ve overcome everything?
SW: I’m not ever gonna feel like I just “made it.” I feel like I’m back where I belong, on a roster. I just wanna make my way up Coach’s rotation. I want to seize the moment when they call me.
Dime: You know you have doubters, though.
SW: Yeah, but I really don’t keep up with the he-say, she-say. I know people out there have probably written me off, but I have people who haven’t written me off. I have a good supporting cast. I’m not gonna get into saying too much, I just have to show by my actions — how I walk and how I talk. I just wanna go out there and play ball. Judge me for playing basketball.