The bleachers have been folded up against the walls, leaving only a few bench spots for the smattering of parents and siblings in a nearly empty Baltimore City Community College gym.
On the right baseline stands a 6-foot-1 shooting guard who might weigh 175 pounds. At the extended free-throw line sits an office chair. In a matter of seconds, the Nike Baltimore Elite player charges toward the nondescript piece of furniture at a speed normally reserved for football combines, not an AAU basketball practice.
After sharply curling around the chair, the wiry guard softly cradles a pass from a coach, stops, elevates and buries a 15-footer. Then it’s back to the end of the line, waiting his turn for yet another run through a drill that almost no one is watching.
Kameron Williams has been in the spotlight longer than most players his age. The Mount St. Joseph junior earned first-team Baltimore Catholic League honors as a sophomore and was selected as the conference’s MVP for the 2011-12 season. But it is his precise focus in moments like this – moments when no more than 15 people are in the gym – that have separated him from most of his basketball-playing peers.
“It gets tiring, but it’s something that you have to do, something that you have to live with,” Williams said. “If I want to be the player I want to be, these things have to happen. It’s going to work out for me in the long run, so I really don’t have a problem with it.”
Evidence of Williams’ hard work has been on display this spring in Nike’s Elite Youth Basketball League. He leads the league in scoring at 22.6 points per game. But despite his dominance on the AAU and high school level, Williams remains an underrated prospect.
“The rankings and things like that, I think people put a lot of stock into that, but you kind of have to look at who’s doing the rankings. It’s the nature of the beast this day and age,” said Mount St. Joseph coach Pat Clatchey. “But I think Kam, he works to be a player. He’s not caught up in rankings and things like that. He just wants to be the best player he can be. He’s certainly doing a great job of that.”
Never was this more evident than last Wednesday night at BCCC.
Williams’ every move has a purpose, yet each pass he makes and shot he takes looks effortless. His athleticism is staggering, as evidenced by a one-handed alley-oop, a reverse slam and a thunderous two-handed dunk off a fast break during a 20-minute scrimmage. And although he’s an incredibly effective 3-point shooter – 47 percent in EYBL play – Williams doesn’t settle for the triple if he can take a dribble or two inside the arc and convert from there.
“He puts it in the basket,” Clatchey said. “He does it in a variety of ways – transition, pull-ups, floaters, long range, gets to the free-throw line, open court, tip-ins, a little bit of a post game. Some guys, they can score, and some guys can shoot. He can do both. And he does it in a very efficient, productive manner.”
Said Williams: “I’ve been shooting all my life, so the confidence is there. When I miss, in my mind it’s like a shock, but I try not to let it [show] on the court.”
Reviews of Williams this spring have been almost unanimously positive – understandably so considering his production with Nike Baltimore Elite. But most talent evaluators have been reluctant to adjust their rankings.
Williams – a three-star prospect – isn’t listed on Rivals.com’s Top 150, which was updated last month. Scout.com rates him the No. 26 shooting guard nationally, but he is conspicuously absent from the recruiting service’s Top 100.
Recruiting analysts say he’s “too skinny, too small, he’s not 6-4 or 6-5,” Clatchey said. But “they’re not checking IDs when we play. Kam might be skinny, but there’s not a scale out there when we’re playing. He’s out there playing and getting it done. He had a great sophomore season, a great junior season, and I’m pretty sure he’s planning on a pretty damn good senior season.”
Some recruiting analysts are starting to overlook Williams’ perceived physical deficiencies and assess him simply on production. ESPN.com’s Dave Telep ranks Williams a four-star prospect and the No. 68 player nationally in the 2013 class. The Gaels guard’s ESPN profile offers an insightful description and reasoning for his four-star status.
“Whether it's with his high school or travel team, Williams gets cast in the role of scorer, specifically shooter. Leave him open, and he's nailing the shot. Moves exceptionally well so he'll get lost and then boom, count it.”
Williams said he doesn’t pay that much attention to where he is ranked. But every now and then, he’ll glance at recruiting websites and wonder why he isn’t listed.
“It enters my head, but I try to just keep up my level of play and hopefully somebody will put me somewhere,” Williams said. “It’s like, it gives me motivation every time I scroll through [a set of rankings] and I see some of the players on there, and I see some of the players that we played last year on there, and some of our players aren’t on there. It kind of gives you that motivation that makes you want to work harder than those guys that are on there. And it just keeps you hungry.”
With each passing week and every EYBL tournament, it becomes increasingly difficult for college coaches to overlook Williams’ numbers. Last weekend in Oakland, Calif., Williams led Nike Baltimore Elite to a 4-2 record and a wildcard berth in the Peach Jam – the circuit’s signature event. In a win over the Iowa Attack, Williams scored 29 points on 8-for-14 shooting. And in a loss to Boo Williams, Williams poured in 32 points on 10-for-15 shooting (5-for-9 from 3-point range).
“I’m surprised that he’s been able to score 20-plus points in 20-plus games in the EYBL because that’s just hard to do for anybody,” said Nike Baltimore Elite coach Carlton “Bub” Carrington. “For a 6-foot-2, 175-pound shooting guard, it’s amazing.”
With every 20-plus-point game, it seems, another college coach relays how much he likes Williams’ game to one of his coaches. Duke, Louisville, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Pittsburgh and Providence are among the many high-major programs that have recently expressed interest in Williams. Williams said that he’s interested in all suitors but that schools that believed in him early might have an edge.
“Schools that are going to stick out are the ones that took interest before this year, when I was just coming up last year,” he said. “Those are going to be the schools like the Miamis, the Wakes, the Richmonds, South Florida. Those are always going to be in my head.”
Williams, who claims offers from Clemson, Dayton, DePaul, Drexel, Massachusetts, Miami, Richmond, South Florida, VCU, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, plans to sign during the fall period. While he’s in no rush to make a commitment, one school is standing out from the rest.
“I’d say Miami right now,” Williams said. “I have a good relationship with [Hurricanes assistant] coach [Chris] Caputo and coach [Jim Larranaga]. They always check in on me to see how I’m doing, how my schoolwork’s going. They really want to get me down there on campus. Seems like everybody does. But they’re interested the most.”
Clatchey, who said he’s occasionally reminded of former Maryland guard Juan Dixon while watching Williams, thinks the junior guard “can play anywhere in the country.” After witnessing Williams’ development over the past several years, Carrington is inclined to agree.
“He’s just a great kid,” Carrington said. “He’s humble – the first one in the gym and the last one to leave. He’s extremely coachable and he’ll never make an excuse. His dad’s done such a tremendous job of keeping him humble and grounded. I don’t see a situation where he’s not successful.”
Practice for Nike Baltimore Elite ends a little after 8 p.m. After gathering with his teammates and coaches for a post-practice wrap-up, Williams chats with Carrington, and his father, Kevin, before taking a seat on a bench.
The soft-spoken shooting guard discusses his methodical approach to the game, plans for the summer and life as a well-traveled, seemingly tireless prospect.
“Hard work’s been paying off,” he says.
Williams moves down a few seats, trades his sweat-soaked practice gear for his school uniform and leaves BCCC with his father. He’ll return next week for more.
Even if no one is watching.