Former University of Maryland basketball star Walt Williams ended his holdout yesterday by signing a six-year, $13.38 million contract with the Sacramento Kings.
Williams, the Kings' No. 1 pick and the seventh player chosen in the June NBA draft, will join the team for a preseason game tonight in Toronto against the defending champion Chicago Bulls.
"I've heard the numbers all along, but it's different to see them on a signed contract," Williams, 22, said by telephone from the offices of his attorney, Len Elmore. "It's a different type of feeling."
It is certainly a feeling of elation, as well as relief, for Williams. After contract negotiations broke off three weeks ago, when Williams rejected a seven-year, $14.7 million deal, he was uncertain about the future.
Along with his professional dilemma, Williams was also trying to get over a personal tragedy: the death of his father, Walter Sr., a few days before, from cancer at the age of 47. The elder Williams had attended nearly every one of his son's games at Maryland, even after falling sick last year.
"It was devastating for me," the younger Williams said. "When you're a kid, you think your parents are going to live forever. But because I've been through a lot already, and I learned to handle some adversity at Maryland, I think it helped me deal with everything that was going on."
Williams was referring to a number of events that took place during his four years in College Park: the turmoil that surrounded the program during his first two years, the fact that the Terrapins went on NCAA probation and were banned from postseason competition for his last two, as well as the broken leg he sustained as a junior.
It was the decision to remain at Maryland after his sophomore year that proved most beneficial for Williams. Not only did he thrive in Gary Williams' system -- becoming the Atlantic Coast Conference's leading scorer last season -- but he increased his NBA value tenfold. Williams' average base salary was more than three times what Jerrod Mustaf signed for (and is playing for) after coming out as a sophomore two years ago.
"I realized even then that it was the best decision," said Walt Williams. "At the time, I didn't think I was mentally or physically ready for the NBA. It was to my advantage to stay in school and get my degree."
The announcement of Williams' signing ended three months of oftendifficult, sometimes bitter, negotiations between Elmore and Kings president Rick Benner. But after a meeting last week in Washington, they agreed to see where concessions could be made.
Elmore came down in his demand to get Williams $2.5 million a year; the Kings gave the 6-foot-8, 225-pound guard an escape clause after four years. Both sides seemed excited about getting the man Maryland fans called "The Wizard" into a Sacramento uniform as soon as possible.
"Down the road, if it's purely a point of money, he's going to make his money," said Elmore, who also represented former Southern Cal star Harold Miner in his negotiations with the Miami Heat. "He made his point and now it's time for him to make his point on the floor."
"There's always a feeling of concern," said Benner, who didn't want to trade his No. 1 pick, as he had to do last year after not signing Billy Owens of Syracuse. "You don't know whether you're going to be the one team where the player sits out the entire season. You hope it doesn't happen."
Williams is expected to fit in well on a team that has a solid veteran forward in Wayman Tisdale, an improving young center in Duane Causwell, a burgeoning star in forward Lionel Simmons and an established 20-point scorer in guard Mitch Richmond.
In new coach Garry St. Jean's system, derived from his former boss Don Nelson's system at Golden State, Williams will see time at all three of the positions he played in college. Williams will likely play more shooting guard and small forward than point guard.
"I don't know what [position] I'm going to play," said Williams, who will wear the same jersey number (42) that has since been retired at Maryland. "I think it's going to be a number of positions."
Williams has stayed in shape by working out privately during the mornings, and running with his former teammates in the afternoons. A few friends questioned his sanity when Williams rejected the Kings' offer a few weeks ago.
Now they have another question.
"One of the guys asked, 'Do you need a chauffeur?' " Williams said with a laugh.