John Williams, 19, the Washington Bullets' No. 1 draft choice, said yesterday he wanted to stay at Louisiana State but his family's financial problems caused him to enter the NBA draft. He has gone from being a college sophomore to the league's youngest prospect.
"Coming to the end of the NCAA playoffs, everything started going wrong for my family back home," said Williams, the 12th pick overall. "I started thinking about it. My family was struggling. We were having financial problems back in Los Angeles, so I felt like I could do something about it by going hardship. I just felt the timing was right.
"Age is nothing but a number," he said. "A lot of underclassmen came out this year and I just felt if they could make it, I could make it. My chances are just as good as their chances."
He spoke at a news conference at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington with fellow Bullets first-round pick Anthony Jones of Nevada-Las Vegas. Both toured the hospital and talked with patients after the session with the media.
Williams said leading LSU to the Final Four last April fulfilled only part of his college goals. "Before the NCAA playoffs, I wanted to stay my four years and hopefully get on the Olympic team and get a gold medal. But it's been a dream for me and right now I'm living a dream. I mean you only live once. And, I have to do the best that I can now."
His agent, Fred Slaughter, said leaving school early may have cost his client some bargaining power. Slaughter also said negotiations for Williams' contract have not begun, which may jeopardize Williams' attendance at the team's rookie camp starting July 23 at Bowie State College.
The Bullets have great expectations for Williams, a 6-foot-9, 237-pound forward. Strong and versatile, he passes well, causing the Bullets to envision him at small forward, shooting guard and eventually point guard.
"I have my mind set on playing small forward," he said. "But anywhere the coach wants me to play, I'm willing to play that spot, because I think I can play every position out there on the court. I have the physical skills, the heart and determination . . ."
"He's got terrific instincts," said Bullets Coach Kevin Loughery, who compared Williams' style to that of the Milwaukee Bucks' "point-forward" Paul Pressey. "I definitely think at some stage of his career he will play lead guard. I'm looking for an immediate impact from John Williams." But he wouldn't say he'd start Williams alongside center Moses Malone and forward Terry Catledge, both aquired from Philadelphia in a draft-day trade.
Williams said the NCAA regular season and the playoffs took its toll on him. "I think I had burned out," he said. "I got to the NCAA playoffs and I guess I just ran out of gas."
But he led LSU in scoring (17.8 points per game) and rebounding (8.5).
He knows his next challenge will be provided by the NBA season.
"I know they'll be coming at me because of my age," he said. "But I'll just have to play through it. I'll be ready."