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A Rising Talent Stays Grounded

Touted Freshman M. Williams Plays Down Hype

By Eric Prisbell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 10, 2005; Page G04

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. -- During a high school all-American basketball camp two summers ago, one reporter questioned 20 top players about their interest in playing in the NBA. Marvin Williams was the only player not interested in talking about the topic.

He still isn't.

Marvin Williams is considered a top NBA draft prospect, but he said he'd "rather watch grass grow than think about" turning professional. (Jeffrey Camarati -- AP)

In fact, Williams, North Carolina's standout freshman, told the Charlotte Observer earlier this season: "I'd rather watch grass grow than think about [the NBA]. We're trying to win a national championship. I want to go to school, hang with my friends, be a college basketball player."

In the spring, Williams watched more than a half-dozen of his peers from the high school class of 2004 bypass college for the NBA, including J.R. Smith, who would have been a teammate at North Carolina.

But for Williams, who likely would have been a top 10 pick in the 2004 draft, it was hard enough to leave his friends and family in Bremerton, Wash., after graduation and make the cross-country trip to Chapel Hill. He said he wanted to grow into an adult before hastening his development in the NBA.

The 18-year-old is quiet and polite, often giving credit to his parents, teammates and coach. Even Sunday, Williams played down his role after converting the game-winning three-point play with 17 seconds remaining in a 75-73 win over Duke. Williams credited Raymond Felton with keeping the ball alive after missing a free throw that would have tied the score.

The loose ball wound up in the hands of Williams, who immediately shot it, made it and drew the foul.

"There was no time to think about it," Williams said. "I just tried to grab the rebound and shoot it."

He said he felt no pressure, even though the Tar Heels were attempting to come back from a nine-point deficit with less than three minutes remaining.

"It's not that big of a shot," Williams said. "It's just a free throw."

He did call it the biggest shot of his life, but he had to think about it before answering. Williams said he also made two free throws to win a key game in the Las Vegas Big Time summer-league tournament a few years ago.

After Sunday's game, fans stormed the court to celebrate North Carolina's regular season conference title. Senior Jawad Williams, no relation, lifted the 6-foot-9 Marvin above the crowd. Asked if that is the most excited he has ever been, Marvin Williams said, "Not even close," referencing occasions when he's hung out with friends in the Seattle area.

North Carolina's final offensive sequence was even more impressive considering that Williams didn't have his best game. Twice he was blocked by Duke's Shelden Williams. Late in the game, Williams fouled Shelden Williams on back-to-back possessions, and on the second of those occasions, Duke's big man scored a layup despite the foul.

Yet when Marvin Williams had the ball in the game's final seconds, he went up strong, knowing Shelden Williams was lurking ready to block another shot.

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