SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Most of his Sacramento Kings teammates were on the court at Arco Arena, shooting around hours before game time. Others sat in the locker room, joking and deciding which area nightspots to hit after the game.
But Walt Williams, who was here long before anyone else, had more important business to tend to. He was in the trainer's room, having his lower left leg massaged.
There the former University of Maryland star could relax before last week's game against the Washington Bullets and reflect on his accomplishments of last season, when he averaged 17.0 points and earned a spot on the NBA's All-Rookie team.
"It didn't surprise me at all," Williams said. "I was accustomed to the pace of the NBA game at Maryland. When I got here, I was ready."
Ready is what Williams wishes he could be tonight when he and former Maryland teammate Evers Burns make what amounts to a homecoming in the Kings' only appearance this season at USAir Arena.
Williams will play against the Bullets tonight, but he'll be far from ready. He is still recovering from the broken left fibula he suffered in the Kings' first exhibition. The injury forced him out for five weeks, and since his return on Nov. 21, the results have been mixed. Last Thursday against the Bullets, Williams scored 16 points in his team's 114-88 win. But last night against the Orlando Magic, Williams went scoreless, missing his one shot attempt in six minutes.
Williams is averaging 13.2 points, hitting just 38.5 percent of his shots as he continues to search for last season's form.
"Lately I haven't been able to produce for the team, and I haven't been getting enough time because of the injury," he said. "My game has been hurt all around. The only thing I can do is try to keep working on it and hopefully this will get better soon."
The expectations are tremendous for Williams, the 6-foot-8 guard/forward who parlayed a strong senior season at Maryland into the seventh pick of the 1992 draft.
"Despite the injury, he still exhibits a great deal of promise," said Sacramento coach Garry St. Jean. "The season, in our mind, is only a quarter over and Walt Williams is going to have a great year. There's a tremendous amount of potential there and he's going to be just fine."
It's Williams' versatility that makes him such a valuable player. At Maryland he starred at small forward, point guard and shooting guard -- scoring 30 points in seven straight games at that position during his senior season.
Today Williams provides versatility in a different way. Still wearinghis trademark knee-high socks, Williams is no longer the pencil-thin 200-pounder Atlantic Coast Conference fans grew accustomed to seeing. Two years of bulking up have increased his weight to 230 pounds -- 10 pounds less than New York Knicks center Patrick Ewing -- allowing Williams to use his skills more in the frontcourt.
On one play last week, Williams banged bodies with Bullets 240-pound power forward Tom Gugliotta to establish low-post position, spun quickly to the baseline and scored on a layup.
"Now I'm a versatile player -- I play some power forward and I sometimes even play center," Williams said. "As thin as I was in college, there was no way I could take the abuse that you face here."
His slight build didn't even come into play when the Kings were making their 1992 draft pick.
"There was no concern because we could see feel, we could see vision, we could see a passing ability, we could see a touch of the ball," St. Jean said. "When you have those ingredients you don't have to have anything else. He's got a lot of gifts that you can't teach."
Williams disputes critics who say the added weight has taken away some of his explosiveness.
"Hey, I was losing my jumping ability a long time ago," Williams said, laughing. "It hasn't affected me getting to the basket at all. I showed last year I could get to the basket against the players in this league."
That ability has only been shown in flashes this season. St. Jean is hoping that by season's end, Williams will be back on top of his game.
"We miss him because he's a player who has the ability to make other people on the floor better, and there aren't too many people that can do that," St. Jean said. "He has a skill level that demands attention by the other team, and that can help his teammates play better."
Sitting on the training table last week, Williams was asked when he thinks he'll regain those skills.
"That is a question for the doctors," he said. "I really don't know."