Walt Williams has something to prove -- that he can play a full 82-game NBA season.
As a 230-pound rookie, Williams tried it the skinny way. A broken hand and sore feet limited him to 59 games.
Last season, the 6-foot-8 Williams bulked up to 255 pounds. The bulky way didn't work, either. A stress fracture in his left leg, a separated shoulder and a sprained right ankle limited him to 57 games.
The former University of Maryland star enters his third season as a Sacramento King with a new way of playing -- in shape.
"I feel like I'm in the best shape of my life," Williams said last night from his home in Temple Hills.
Williams, who is playing in the Muggsy Bogues All-Star Classic tonight at the Baltimore Arena, has spent his summer in relative seclusion. This is his second public appearance since he began training with Kings assistant coach Eddie Jordan and former Maryland conditioning coach Frank Costello.
Williams made his first showing at the Kings' rookie camp in Utah. Second-year guard Bobby Hurley, who is recovering from a near-fatal car accident and is on the East team's final roster for tonight's game, was the only other returning player at the camp.
Williams wanted to prove to the organization that this season would not be like the last one, when his scoring average fell to 11.2 points per game after averaging 17 as a rookie. He wanted the Kings to know that he is in shape.
"It wasn't good enough for me to just tell them," Williams said. "I wanted to show them."
The Kings could shoulder some of the blame for Williams' injury and weight problems.
When then-general manager Jerry Reynolds made Williams the seventh pick in the 1992 draft, Reynolds said that Williams would develop into a power forward. The team tried to get Williams to play that position from Day One.
It didn't help that Williams missed the first three weeks of the preseason because of a contract dispute and arrived out of shape. He took a pounding the whole season, breaking a bone in his hand Jan. 19 on a foul by Houston Rockets forward Robert Horry.
After the season, Williams responded by bulking up to as much as 255 pounds. Although he had a stronger upper body, Williams lost his quickness and mobility that made him so effective against smaller players. The added weight also put pressure on Williams' legs -- he started the season with a stress fracture in the same leg he broke as a junior at Maryland and experienced feet and ankle problems for the rest of the year. Neither the Kings nor Williams was very happy with his play.
"I felt that because of the year that I had last year, the blame could go both ways," Williams said. "It was part my fault, and it was part their fault."
This off-season the Kings responded by making some changes. They replaced Reynolds, their general manager, with Geoff Petrie. Petrie then acquired a slew of power forwards. He drafted Xavier's Bryan Grant, Ohio State's Lawrence Funderburke and Providence's Michael Smith, signed Frank Brickowski and re-signed Olden Polynice.
Williams, who anticipates a return to the shooting guard/small forward position, started getting in shape. He weighs 230 pounds, like he did when he averaged 17 points as a rookie.
This summer at the rookie camp, he made amends with the organization through Petrie.
"I said to him, 'Last year was last year,' " Williams said. "I'm just going to be a man and move on."
The only thing left for Williams to do is make it through a full season.
What: Muggsy Bogues All-Star Classic, to benefit Baltimore Reads.
When: Tonight, 7:30
Where: Baltimore Arena
Who: Players include Bogues, fellow Dunbar alumni Reggie Williams of the Denver Nuggets and Sam Cassell of the Houston Rockets, former Maryland star Walt Williams of the Sacramento Kings, Dream Team II members Alonzo Mourning and Larry Johnson of the Charlotte Hornets and Bullets players Larry Stewart and Calbert Cheaney.
Tickets: $30, $25, $17.50 and $11; available at Arena box office, TicketMaster locations or by calling (410) 481-SEAT.