Monday, March 31, 2008

Shiny New Clipper: An Interview With The Clippers' Marcus Williams

The NBA is a league where upside is everything. Potential is such a primary part of negotiations and evaluation, sometimes it seems that it matters more than what actually happens on the court. A lot of the time, guys have a ton of potential, but never put the effort in. Funny thing. Marcus Williams has got that potential, and he's putting it to good use.

Williams came out of Arizona after a stellar season. Many projected that had he come back to school, he would have been a lottery pick the following year. There was a lot of doubt about whether he was NBA-ready. But Williams truly believed he could play now and wanted to take his opportunity. He was drafted by the Spurs, brought to camp, then released. He signed with the Spurs' Austin Toros and worked on his defensive game all year, coming into his own.

Now, I'm really not big on player predictions. I think they depend on too many factors, are too subjective, and should be left to scouts.

Marcus Williams will start inside three years. I truly believe that.

Watching him, it's got nothing to do with his jaw-dropping performances on the court against the D-League. The league itself admits that there's a lot more to preparing a player for the NBA than just having that player fill up the stat-sheet. But Williams' progression on the court is apparent. He's developed into a defensive specialist. He was aware early on that the biggest thing the NBA is looking for in call-up players is defense. So he committed himself to that end. And it paid off.

In a span of three games, I saw Williams defend a 7-0 center prospect for the Pistons, a 6-5 shooting guard with NBA experience, and a 6-8 combo forward with NBA talent. He also averaged 28 points in those games. And 7 rebounds. It's not the stats, though, it's the commitment. I talked with his coach in the D-League, Quin Snyder, and he raved about the commitment Marcus made on defense this season.

"You've got a young guy like that, and learning to really commit themselves to the defensive end is hard. But he really took it in stride and made it something to hang his hat on. He's obviously got the physical tools and the offensive ability. He's a great shooter. But he's proven that he's willing to put the work in, in order to get himself to that level."

Williams put in the work, and it paid off for him. He received a contract with the Los Angeles Clippers, who he had worked out with before last year's draft, for the remainder of the season. I spoke with Marcus via telephone about Austin, getting called up, his commitment to defense, and his favorite flick.

HP: For you this was more of an expectation, given your talent, youth, and upside. Were you still excited when you found out?

MW: Oh, yeah, it's still a feeling of excitement. I'd been playing well, but it's a real pleasure to get called up finally. In the NBA you hear rumors, but until it happens and you sign the contract and get your uniform, you're always wondering.

HP: Can you take me through how you felt when you found out you'd been signed again, this time for the remainder of the season?

MW: I was at the mall in LA, and I got the call. I was like "Wow." I tried to play it cool, I told my friend who was with me. I was trying to play it cool, but he says I said it with this huge smile, though. I get a chance to show what I can do, and I'm looking forward to it.

HP: What have the Clips told you about their plans for you?

MW: Just bits and pieces. I've got a good chance to get some playing time, which is great. They just say I've got to learn the plays. Mostly they've said, "Just play how you play". I'm hoping I can make an imapact on defense and be a playmaker. All I can do is show how I can play and if they're interested in me long term, that's up to me and how I perform.

HP: How do think the D-League helped you develop your game, and do you think it was a major part of getting you to this point?

MW: The D-League helped me a lot. I give a lot of credit to Coach Snyder. For a young guy like me to actually get as much playing time as I did in Austin was huge. The D-League was great for me, personally. It's got a lot of resemblance to the NBA game. There are guys down there with legitimate NBA talent you can test yourself against. I did a lot of growing down there.

HP: Do you know anybody on the Clippers?

MW: Nick Fazekas. Al Thornton. They were in the rookie system, so I knew them from a couple of events. None of the veterans, though.

HP: How has the reception been for you?
It was good, everyone was cool. The team was great, actually. The whole organization has a really positive attitude, even though they're going through some tough times.

HP: You told me a little over a week ago that you thought defense was the most important thing you've worked on, and it's been something the coaches have commented on in the D-League. Do you feel your defense is NBA-ready?

MW: I think it's going to have to be. As a role guy, to impact the game, I'm going to need to impact it on the defensive end. I need to get into the passing lanes and disrupt the opposing offense. that's my biggest focus, that and just making plays when and where I can.

HP: What position in the NBA do you think you're best suited to play at right now, the 2 or the 3?

MW: I can play both. I talked to the Clippers, and they think I can play both. I'll probably lean towards the three but I can play both.

HP: After your first game, what kind of feedback did they give you?

MW: They told me I'm gonna play more, I just gotta learn the playbook. They gave me a set of plays to start learning, to get my feet wet. I'll work with the coaches. The more I learn the plays, I can be more fluent everywhere on the court.

HP: Was it a big thrill for you getting the call-up?

MW: Big thrill. Really big thrill realizing I was going to be in LA. I had a workout with the Clippers for the draft, so I knew they liked me. It feels good to be here. Great crowd, plus, we got a win on the first night so hopefully things are off to a good start.

HP: What do you do in your spare time?

MW: I'm really into music and movies. I'm kind of a homebody, since it's so rigorous playing ball all the time. Usually I just like to chill and listen to my iPod.

HP: What's your favorite artist?

MW: Lil' Wayne, man.

HP: And your favorite movie?

MW: Goodfellas.

HP: Finally, have the Clippers talked to you about a long term contract, if they like what they see of you through the rest of this season?

MW: They haven't gotten into that. It depends on how I perform. I've got a lot to go, but as time progresses, that might come into effect, they've told me.

HP: Marcus, congratulations on the call-up, and good luck.

MW: Thanks, man, I appreciate that.

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