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The Rigors of a Recruit : Cage Star Scott Williams Heads for North Carolina--and a Rest

February 06, 1986|BOB MUIR | Times Staff Writer

It was after 11 in the morning when 6-10 Scott Williams dragged himself downstairs. The Hacienda Heights Wilson star center was still half-asleep after celebrating a 50-32 basketball victory over Brea-Olinda in the championship game of the Glendora Tournament the night earlier.

Scott's mother, Rita, smiled as she watched her son, the tournament's most valuable player, plop into a kitchen chair. After nearly four months of intensive college recruiting, which included sorting hundreds of pieces of mail, traveling across country, accepting late-night telephone calls and undergoing pressure from celebrities, it was good to see him finally able to relax.

The decision had been made. The pressure was off. Scott Williams was going to North Carolina.

When Williams selected the Tar Heels last November in the early signing period, it ended the top recruiting battle of the 1985-86 season for a Southern California basketball star. UCLA , North Carolina, Georgia Tech, DePaul and Villanova were the finalists.

UCLA Used Celebrities

Desperately in need of a big man to stabilize his front line, UCLA Coach Walt Hazzard wanted Williams. In the final weeks before the signing date, Williams received calls from Bill Cosby, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley's office, Dodgers Manager Tom Lasorda, UCLA's legendary John Wooden and Kareem Abdul Jabbar, all pushing the virtues of UCLA. North Carolina countered with calls from NBA stars James Worthy, Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins, to whom Williams has often been compared.

Why did Williams select North Carolina?

The chance to play for a coach like North Carolina's Dean Smith only comes around once in a lifetime, and Williams said he couldn't pass it up.

But until last summer not many coaches, including Smith, were even interested in him.

Williams went from virtual obscurity to one of the nation's top prep basketball prospects in three months.

Pressure Getting to Him

"Scott has handled the sudden notoriety pretty level-headedly," said Al Williams, Scott's father. "Basically, he's the same Scott."

But for a while, especially in the final days of recruitment, his parents were concerned. Although their soft-spoken son never complained, Al and Rita could tell the constant pressure was getting to him.

"The intensity level really peaked that last week," said Al, a basketball All-American at Venice High School in 1961. "I could see a lot of stress in his face."

Williams wasn't alone--his parents also were feeling the pressure. Since the beginning of the summer when Williams drew the attention of major college scouts, he and his parents have sorted through the recruitment process together.

While their son was turning heads on the court, Al and Rita were researching colleges. By July, the family had narrowed Scott's list of schools to 25. By August, it was down to 10. Finally, in September, Scott and his parents were down to the finalists.

Right to Be Tense

"When it got down to the final five schools, I could tell it was getting to him," Rita said. "He was more on the edge."

Scott had a right to be tense. Although he had narrowed his choices to five, the pressure mounted as he visited each school before choosing North Carolina.

"I think he was pleased to sign early and get it out of the way," his father said. "After it was over, he was able to bring up his grades that had slipped a little bit. It's hard to study geometry when you have people like Tommy Lasorda and Kareem call. That's difficult for a 17-year-old."

In the end, the chance for Williams to play for the legendary Smith won out. Williams is the first player Smith has recruited from the West Coast in 25 years at North Carolina.

"I feel it's an honor to be the first player that Dean Smith has gotten from the coast," Williams said. "He is one of the greatest coaches in the game. I have a very high respect for him as a coach. I've heard so much about him recently that it's kind of overwhelming."

May Play as Freshman

Another factor was that with North Carolina losing two big seniors, including All-American Brad Daugherty, Williams will have a good chance of getting playing time in his freshman year. He's ready for the challenge.

"I feel I can fit in well at North Carolina," he said. "They play together and that's what we've stressed in our high school . . . play together and play pressure defense.

"I don't think anybody's an impact player that can come in and take their team to the final four as a freshman. But I think players have a chance of coming in and contributing. Everybody needs a couple of years to grow as a player. When you go in as a freshman, you're playing against seniors that are bigger and stronger, and that's kind of hard to go up against."

But over the summer, Williams proved he is up to the challenge.

Although he averaged 16 points and 10 rebounds a game and was the Sierra League's most valuable player in leading Wilson to a 21-5 record last year, the all-San Gabriel Valley selection went virtually unnoticed before the summer.

Time to Prove Himself

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