From college ball to the NBA
Golden State Warriors forward Reggie Williams is living the dream
 

Echoes of squeaking sneakers and bouncing basketballs fill the Golden State Warriors practice facility in downtown Oakland as the team run drills and practice plays. Bright lights shine over the three championship banners that hang from the ceiling.

The Golden State Warriors franchise is placed at sixth in the National Basketball Association championships won, alongside the Philadelphia 76ers and the Detroit Pistons. Mural-like insignias of the team's retro jerseys are painted on one of the walls, displaying their transition from Philadelphia to San Francisco and finally to the Golden State Warriors. A corner of the building is dedicated to the remembrance of the only time the All-Star Game took place in Oakland ten years ago. In the center of the room, replica jerseys of retired greats like Nate Thurmond, Wilt Chamberlain, and Alvin "Al" Attles drape from the ceiling in their honor. In the middle, a huge banner reads "1974-1975 NBA World Champs."

Thirty minutes after coach Keith Smart blows the whistle to end practice Reggie Williams expresses love for his new residency. "I love Oakland," he says as he comfortably sits in a black folding chair, just like the ones they use at courtside during the games. "It's why I live in Oakland. I'm in the heart of it all!" Even though he is dressed in Warriors attire, a black practice jersey and team shoes, Williams might as well be wearing a neon safety vest--this athlete was born to stand out.

The twenty-four-year old, anointed as "the Warriors' instant offense off the bench" by San Francisco Chronicle writer Rusty Simmons in an October interview, is gradually warming up to the new title, but he is no overnight success. Like most players that have made it in the league, Williams a six-foot-six, two-hundred and ten-pound athlete did not take the express train to NBA fame. Unlike superstar heavyweights like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony, he was not drafted fresh out of high school or college.

He worked through the ropes, making a name for himself by playing all four years of college ball. Having been overlooked after entering the draft in 2008, Williams played professional basketball overseas. He then went over to the developmental league and finally to the NBA. His talent led him to take what some may call the long route, but basketball enthusiasts can agree that Williams' fate of playing through the ladder has only helped in perfecting and improving his game throughout his career transitions.

"Reggie Williams is a perfect example of why the D-League is good for the NBA," says Fast Break and Golden State of Mind blogger Adam Lauridsen. "He was a college standout, but played for a small school.... Although scouts might have dismissed his collegiate success passing him over in the draft, he dominated again in the D-League, proving he deserved a shot at the NBA."

With new recruits and a healthy team thus far, the upcoming season looks promising for the Golden State Warriors. During practice, starters run a full court and play five at a time while the rest of the team is scattered along the base line.

Faces of the franchise, Monta Ellis and Stephen Curry, are easily spotted in the 56,000 square foot practice facility. Warrior veteran Andris Biedrins, rookie and Palo Alto native Jeremy Lin, and newly-traded, former New York Knicks All-Star David Lee stand out among the group. Reggie Williams occasionally grins as his mantra and confidence soars because he is living the dream, working the ultimate dream job-- an NBA player.

An ambition that most of us can only hope, imagine, and wonder what it is like to be an NBA ball player is a sanction not anyone can testify to.

"It's a dream come true," laughs Williams. "It's cliché but it's a fact. Since I was little, I always wanted to play in the NBA. I finally got a chance, an opportunity, and now I'm here." With a free spirit, Williams is humble and grateful with the route life has taken him. The Virginia native was a standout in his high school team and has a lot to be proud of.

"It feels great," he says. "It's not like I'm waking up going to a job saying, 'Ugh, [I] have to go to work today. I hate this....' I wake up and I can't wait to get to the gym. There's nothing else that I would rather do." Keeping his eyes on the prize, Williams has a few goals; one is to remain in the NBA for as long as he can, and the second is to help the Warriors gain a winning season. This should be a fairly easy objective for Williams considering his stats, from entering the 2010 to 2011 season, with career averages of 15.2 points, 4.6 rebounds and 2.8 assists in 32.6 minutes.

Even with such impressive numbers and being a valuable pick-up for the then injury prone Warriors, Williams has more work to do.

"Reggie has been a prolific scorer at every level he has ever played," says Simmons. "One thing we have learned about Reggie, is that he won't stop working to improve every aspect of his game." And Williams' game is continuing to improve. The go-getter puts in a lot of time in his talent and claims good praises from fans and NBA critics.

"Right now he is the Warriors' bench," says Lauridsen. "He's the only reliable scorer after the starters and [we] will see [him play] major minutes playing back-up point guard. But beyond his obvious skills, he brings a much needed calmness to the second unit. He's unflappable with the ball and effortless whether attacking the basket or getting off his shot."

An undeniable asset to the squad, Williams remembers the time he first received interest from the Oakland based team. While traveling last year with his NBA D-League team, The Sioux Falls Skyforce, Williams vividly recalls the phone call he got to play for the Warriors. He flew out the next day to Miami--the first time he was offered to sign a ten-day contract from former Warriors coach Don Nelson

"I called my dad. I told him I signed a contract, and he was proud of me," Williams reminisces. "I made some more phone calls. Then that night I just rested, and I slept good."

Within forty-eight hours, Reggie Williams saw his last name on a Golden State Warrior jersey hanging in the team locker room for the very first time. "It felt great," says Williams of what it was like to accomplish his dream. His excitement echoes through the nearly empty gym as he speaks with enthusiasm and joy. "I hugged my team and ran around the hotel. My D-League room mate said he was proud of me. I watched my team play that night, [I sat out that game] and I met the Warriors in Miami."

With all the excitement and emotions Williams experienced of his biggest day yet, he insists on not having any tears of joy. "No...no crying," he laughs.

In his NBA debut with the Warriors against the Miami Heat, Williams scored an impressive ten points, with five rebounds, and five assists. Making a statement that he not only belongs in this game, but is here to stay.

But not everything is as easy as it seems. Having to make three different transitions after playing at the university level, Williams has been a true student of the game. He learns what he needs to adjust and works on being a better, versatile player.

A standout in his alma mater Virginia Military Institute, Williams, now a forward, led the nation in scoring during the last two years of his college career. He averaged 28.1 points his junior year and 27.6 points his senior year. In addition, he became the ninth player in the NCAA Division I history to lead the country in scoring throughout multiple seasons. He successfully finished his college game as the all-time leading scorer in VMI, Big South Conference, and Virginia State Division I history with a monumental 2,556 points.

Despite his impressive college run, Williams admits the level of difference when it comes to the type of play and transitions. He ranks the difficulty of conversion from college to playing professional ball overseas an eight out of ten.

"You have guys that have already played professional ball, you have to adjust the speed of play," explains Williams. "Its like moving from high school to college. Guys are stronger and have a higher basketball IQ because they've been around longer. It's like being a freshman all over again."

But playing in the NBA is a different story. It is not comparable to the feeling of a freshman making varsity for the first time, but it is a rather faster ball game.

"Coming from the D-League to the NBA, it was just the speed of the game for me--it's a lot faster," he says. "NBA players' games are more polished; they don't have as many kinks to work on as a D-Leaguer or an overseas player." Advancing to a new job, like any other career promotion, can come with a change of lifestyle. In Williams' case, the culture is different from advancing from the developmental league to the NBA.

Now, Williams is enjoying the privilege of not having any roommates, staying at five-star hotels like The Ritz Carlton during away games, and eating well. "The transition in the lifestyle is unbelievable, I went from being in the D-league and having a roommate on the road to having none," says Williams. "It's unreal." Even with a surreal lifestyle as a pro-athlete, Williams insists that his life is pretty conventional.

"I went to buy some Louis Vuitton shoes," says Williams, laughing as he recalls his first purchase. "So I went to buy them, and I was excited because it was going to be my first pair of Louis, but the sales representative called me and told me that they didn't have my size. So that was my supposed big purchase."

"My life is normal and simple," says a humble Williams. "I walk around Oakland or San Francisco and a few people recognize me but its not like it's pandemonium." Insisting that he is more of a local celebrity, Williams shyly admits his sought of lifestyle. On occasion, fans stop him for a photo, an autograph or simply to yell out "Go Warriors!"

"I am blessed. I am happy to be able to say that I play for the Warriors and have a conversation with the fans. I love it, and as I was told the other day I'm loquacious," he jokes. What Warrior fans may not know is that Williams' dreams of maybe one day playing the NBA came with a back-up. He graduated VMI with a psychology degree, but his hard work and passion for basketball took him this far. "At one point I wanted to be a psychiatrist," Williams says. "I like helping people. When I was in middle school, I was a peer mediator and I liked it."

Today, many can only dream and fathom what it's like to be an NBA player. For most, the eagerness to make it to the top like Reggie Williams is a near impossible journey. Fans out of their love for the game sometimes find themselves yelling at their favored team through their television screens. All because of the notion that being a professional athlete is a piece of cake. Sure most players get paid millions but it is hard work, talent, and dedication.

A typical game day for Williams consists of waking up at eight. He goes to the gym around nine, eats catered breakfast, shoots around, and goes over the scout report and contingencies. In the afternoon, he goes back home to take a light nap then eats a preferably pasta for dinner. "I go back to the gym around five. I like to make 140 shots on my own," says Williams. "Then I do some skill work. After that, I head to the locker room and listen to some rap music [Jay-Z, Little Wayne, whatever songs are hot at the moment] then the coaches come in and go over everything again and its game time."

A routine that is easier to read in writing than actually do, NBA players like Williams take time to culminate their game. During practice, professional ball players put in about two hours of practice, which consists of films, weights, skill works, play run-throughs, and scrimmages. On his spare day at home, Williams enjoys spending time at home to play some video games and watch various television shows. "We're normal people. We go home watch TV," he says. "I have a few favorite shows: Entourage, East Bound and Down, Burn Notice, and Jersey Shore. I'm a fist pumper."

A friendly, sensible young man with a promising career ahead, Williams advices many college ball players and NBA hopefuls to persevere. "I had people tell me I couldn't play in the NBA. I've been told I wasn't fast or could jump high enough. People are going to criticize, down talk and down play you," Williams says. "But if you believe strongly on what you do, and what your craft is--then you can definitely achieve it."

The perfect words from a man who fought his way to the top, Williams is proud of what he has accomplished. "If I was to never play another NBA game you can never say I didn't make it," he says. "It doesn't matter what college you go to. Someone from San Francisco State can play in the NBA if they wanted to. I went to VMI and I made it."

Williams advises hopefuls to aspire but stay realistic because the road to the NBA is not easy. "It's hard. You just have to work and spend that extra time in the gym. When every one leaves practice stay and shoot extra shots," he advises. "An extra three hundred jump-shots is not going to kill you."

Even if you are given the opportunity to play in the NBA, he recommends pursuing higher education. "If you have the opportunity to go to the NBA as a sophomore or junior, take it. The window to make it is very small. I still recommend that you get your college education because in the next year you never know what will happen. You can get hurt and that's it," he says.

To summarize in three words what its like to see all your hard work pay off, and finally reach your dream of becoming an NBA player Williams says that it's the, "greatest feeling ever."

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