Former Maryland center Jordan Williams arrived at Verizon Center Tuesday with a trim new body (19 pounds lighter), a new position (forward) and an explanation for Terps basketball fans on how and why he left the team after his sophomore season to pursue an NBA career.
Williams, wearing a light-blue Washington Wizards practice jersey and navy blue shorts, was among six NBA hopefuls to sweat through a series of drills for Wizards coaches 16 days before the draft.
Apparently, it wasn't only the weight that Williams wanted to lose. He also wanted to unload a story — set the record straight — on the circumstances in which the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading rebounder departed College Park.
Williams left school in March and headed to a Las Vegas basketball camp. After missing class time and not appearing at the men's basketball postseason banquet, the 6-foot-10 Williams was presumed by some team members to be all but gone. Maryland football player Cameron Chism said at the time that he was working on a class project with Williams, and that Williams had just seemed to disappear.
Williams, interviewed after the workout, said his decision — he had until May 8 to decide whether to leave his name in the NBA draft — wasn't as abrupt as it may have seemed.
"The message I want to give out is that it wasn't an easy decision for me," said Williams, who lost 25 pounds after his freshman season and another 19 over the past few months. He said he lost so much weight — down to about 245 pounds — that he needed to put a little back on to preserve his strength.
"It was a long process, it really was," Williams said of his decision to leave. "People thought I just up and left class. Not a lot of people really knew the whole story. The whole story was I talked to my teachers, I e-mailed them. I asked them if I could get an incomplete for the class so I'd come back in the summer time and take my classes."
He said his teachers agreed to give him incompletes.
But after four or five weeks in Las Vegas, Williams said, he became convinced that he was ready for the NBA. His slimmed-down body, he said, gives him the additional mobility he will need to range farther away from the basket.
Williams averaged 16.9 points and 11.8 rebounds last season as the Terps went 19-14 and missed the postseason. He is projected in mock drafts as a late first-round or early second-round pick. His departure leaves new Maryland coach Mark Turgeon with a frontcourt void.
"I went to the camp with the mindset, 'I think I'm ready, but I know I've got to prove it,'" Williams said. "When I saw my body change so fast [and] I saw my shot improving so fast, instead of stopping and going back to school … I think I just felt like I was ready for me to keep being better."
During his deliberations, Williams said he received advice from ESPN broadcaster and Maryland graduate Scott Van Pelt.
Williams, in an e-mail to The Baltimore Sun, said he wanted to clarify to the media that Van Pelt did not steer the player towards the NBA.
"Mr. Van Pelt in no way tried to pursue me to go either way," Williams said. "He was just giving me advice to help make my decision the best one."
The timing of the player's decision to sign with an agent caught many at Maryland by surprise. Athletic department officials said Williams had not told them of his plans. On the day the story broke, former Maryland coach Gary Williams, who is now retired, texted a reporter: "Don't know for sure. May 8 is decision day."
The player insisted Tuesday that he had been in touch with his former coach. "No, no, no we kept up communication. It was a shock to everybody, and people didn't how to react at first. I think that's all it was," Williams said. He plans to remain in the area over the summer and play ball with some of his former teammates.
Williams looked quicker than during the season as he ran through one-on-one and three-on-three drills, among others. His outside shot — not utilized much in college since he played primarily on the low block — looked promising, although he continued to be inconsistent on free throws.
Wizards coaches typically don't comment on draft prospects after workouts.
Aran Smith, president of NBADraft.net, said before Williams made his NBA decision that the player would benefit from another college season.
But Smith also said: "Williams impressed this year with his offensive development and dominant interior play. He shows a solid shooting form and developing post skills. He also shows the dedication to improve as seen in his body transformation between his [freshman and sophomore] seasons."
NBADraft.net currently projects Williams as an early second-round pick.
Williams said he has worked out for eight or nine NBA teams and has a busy schedule leading up to the June 23 draft.
Williams said he plans to eventually get a Maryland degree and continues to be in touch with his academic advisor. "I set it up so I could do that," he said.
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