Atlanta Hawks guard Louis Williams’ journey to Stegeman Coliseum took eight years longer than planned.
In 2005, Williams was coming off of his second consecutive Mr. Basketball in Georgia award as a senior at South Gwinnett High School. He won the Naismith Award, given to the top high school player, just one year after Dwight Howard and two years after LeBron James. He was a four-time high school All-State selection and lost just 16 games in four years.
Williams also signed a letter of intent to play for the Georgia men’s basketball team. However, a promise of an NBA career derailed those plans.
“I signed a letter of intent to go [to Georgia],” Williams said. “I spent a lot of time here in high school. I was very familiar with the campus, this is where I was going to call my college home. Fortunately for me, I had a better opportunity with going to the NBA.”
Williams was selected 45th overall in the second round of the 2005 NBA Draft by the Philadelphia 76ers.
Williams’ senior season help his stock tremendously. Originally, Williams said, he “wasn’t considered to be a high draft pick” when he was coming out of high school. Had his stock not risen, there was no question that he was going to be a Bulldog.
“If I was going to school I wanted it to be UGA,” Williams said. “I felt really comfortable here. I’m from Gwinnett County so I’m considered kind of local here so this was always a place of comfort. If it wasn’t going to be the NBA it was definitely going to be UGA.”
Williams’ local ties that almost brought him to Athens also brought him to the Hawks. After playing each of his first seven seasons with the 76ers, Williams became an unrestricted free agent for the first time in his career. For him, the choice was easy.
“Atlanta was on the short list of teams that I was willing to play for,” Williams said. “Lucky for me, they were the first team to call and we were able to get the deal done. I definitely wanted to be home, especially with the organization they were building, I wanted to be a part of that as well.”
Now as a member of the Hawks, Williams is participating in the team’s training camp that is being held on the men’s basketball practice court in Stegeman Coliseum.
Camp began on Tuesday, in part without Williams.
In January of last season, Williams heard the news no professional athlete wants to hear — a torn anterior cruciate ligament. For Williams, that meant season ending surgery.
“That was my first major sports injury,” Williams said. “For that to be the first time of me dealing with it and just getting through it, it was an extremely challenging time.”
The injury couldn’t have happened at a worse time for Williams as he was the team’s third-leading scorer.
Scoring points is what Williams does. In his last full season, 2011-2012 with Philadelphia, he led the team in scoring. Maybe more impressive is that he did so without a start in 64 games played and finishing sixth on the team in minutes.
Williams played a similar role in his first season with the Hawks. In the 39 games before his injury, he had nine starts. With the rebuilding Hawks this season, his role is very much up in the air, however.
“How this team is rebuilding, who knows what who’s role is going to be, especially for me, especially not to be able to not have contact right now in the practices,” Williams said. “We’ll see what happens in the near future but I’ll be prepared for whatever it is.”
Although Williams can’t participate in contact because of the injury, he’s still getting an opportunity to play with a new team and learn from new head coach Mike Budenholzer. As a new head coach, Budenholzer is still learning about his players just as much as they are learning him. Because of this, Budenholzer is noncommittal about every players’ role.
“I think it’s way too early to even think about Lou Williams’ production and what he’s going to do,” Budenholzer said. “The entire group, it’s our first day so I think we’re all going to be learning each other… As a group, we’ll figure it out as we go, including Lou.”