Brian Williams is a freshman, and during the course of running up and down the basketball court in a Maryland uniform, he makes some of the mistakes freshmen often make. That's normal. What's a bit abnormal is that Williams seems to have a presence beyond his 18 years.

"There's a kid side to Brian, and a mature side to Brian," said his uncle Dale Morris, who lives in Fairfax.

The kid keeps a fish tank in his dormitory room and will play with his toddler cousin on the floor of Cole Field House after a game. The adult will ignore the rantings of 8,000 fanatics in an enemy gym.

"Brian did an interesting thing," said Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski, whose team lost to Maryland last week at Cameron Indoor Stadium. "Before the game, when the teams first go out to shoot, Brian came out before anyone else and shot. It's tough to play in our place and I'm sure our fans said a few things to him. But he just soaked in the atmosphere and got accustomed to it early. His play early on gave Maryland a lift. I respected that. I think he's as good a rookie as there is in our conference."

The 6-foot-10, 210-pound Williams is the true center that Maryland hasn't had in years -- a large cornerstone in the rebuilding of a program. He is averaging 11.6 points and has started all 15 games. He probably will start many, many more before leaving College Park.

There is a worldliness to Williams that may have come from seeing much of it. Williams' parents split up a couple years after he was born, and both have since remarried. Patricia Phillips is a computer systems analyst, while Gene Williams is in his 18th year with the singing group The Platters.

Early on, Williams went to his father's shows, and later spent summers traveling with the band.

"His second home was Tahoe, Reno and Las Vegas," said Gene Williams, who clearly is the bass of the group.

There were years spent in Hayward, near San Francisco, and in Fresno. Brian and his brother Kevin, a computer science major at Cal-Berkeley, would spend some summers on the road with their father and the band or in Fresno with their grandmother, Leonsya Williams.

Williams doesn't think of it as an odd childhood.

"The only two people with 'normal' childhoods were Wally and Beaver Cleaver," said Williams with a smile.

Williams "can't sing a lick," according to Morris, but he plays the trumpet and the urge to perform always has been there.

"One of Gene's sisters used to shoot home movies," Patricia Phillips said. "Brian was always the one to perform. The other kids were less enthusiastic. Not Brian."

Obviously, Williams is displaying different skills, but a stage is a stage whether it be on The Strip in Las Vegas or an arena on Tobacco Road. Either way, people pay admission and want a show.

"I do like to perform and I want to put on a good show," Williams said. "I want to play to the best of my ability and help the team to win. But it's all about having fun."

Having been backstage and occasionally on stage with his father and performers such as Lou Rawls and Bill Cosby gave Williams an opportunity to see those entertainers as regular people. It helps explain why he doesn't seem the least bit in awe of a hostile crowd and why he seems so at ease in dealing with the media. Williams answers questions with a vocabulary that would make an English teacher smile.

"Being around my dad," said Williams, "I saw how he was relaxed around a large crowd and how he faced questions." Williams was 16 when he moved to Las Vegas to live with his father, who took one of several leaves from the Platters to try a solo career, which would allow him to stay home more.

"I feared them not knowing me as 'Dad,' " Gene Williams said of his sons. "I was consciously in their lives and, I believe, on their minds. But I did regret not being with them while they grew up. Now they're grown and those opportunities are gone."

Moving to a new school can be traumatic for some kids, but for Williams it presented little problem.

"He's always had the ability to make people feel comfortable around him," his mother said.

"I always had a lot of friends quickly," Williams said. "I wasn't a recluse. I enjoyed being a part of what was happening and I did not want to be a bystander."

But Williams, who is majoring in business, is astute enough to know friends from hangers-on.

Williams moved to Santa Monica, Calif., to live with his mother for his senior year of high school. He averaged 17.3 points, 12.7 rebounds and 9.1 blocked shots for St. Monica's High School, which brought hordes of college recruiters.

"I got out of it," said Patricia, "that the NCAA rules leave parents at a major disadvantage. They really don't allow you to get to know the coach and his staff, to know who is really in charge of your child. The rules leave the coach only with an opportunity to do his song and dance, and little opportunity to be a person. At games, I wasn't allowed to talk to coaches. And, often, the image I deduced from the phone bore no relation to the person. It's usually late in the process before you discover that."

Some athletes end up being taken advantage of by the system in major college athletics. Williams seems to be one who will instead make the most of the system.

"You want to use the system," Williams' mother said. "He has responsibilities and has to be a contributor. But it is mutual use."

Williams narrowed his choices to UCLA, Temple and Maryland. All have black coaches, but Williams said that was a coincidence. He said he didn't think he would fit in at UCLA, and, although he said he thought a lot of Temple Coach John Chaney, Philadelphia did not have great appeal. That left Maryland.

But why, Williams is asked, would someone want to go to a team that was 0-14 in the ACC last season? He has said there are many more important reasons for choosing a school than its won-lost record, but he answers anyway.

"What's our record now?" he responds.

10-5 and 3-2.

"That's why."