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Freakishly Amazing

Stephen Dyell is a journalism student in Canada and a Nets fan. He penned the following feature on Sean Williams this past weekend.

With the New Jersey Nets season slowly picking up the pieces and trying to figure out what pieces go where, there came a loud thump on the roof. As the fans grew weary of what may happen, Chris Cringle hoped out of his sleigh and handed us one of the most promising early Christmas gifts that we hadn’t seen in years.

Six years ago, a young man by the name of Sean Williams picked up his first basketball. Many didn’t know it back then but Sean’s new found love would take him places he had never gone before both positive and negative. Standing 6’8 at only 15 years of age, he stood out like a raw tomato. Lanky was the best way to describe him as he was easily pushed around but had that raw ability to know something good could turn from this young boy.

Growing up in Houston Texas, Williams was a fan of Jacques Dominique Wilkins not even because of the skill level, but because of the energy he brought to the court just with his aptitude to soar. His high school coach first noticed him in community leagues and eventually invited him to try out for the Mansfield High School team in Mansfield, Texas.

Deciding to leave home after an impressive high school career, Williams choose to attend Boston College. The team already filled with California natives, Craig Smith and Jared Dudley looked very promising with the athletic Williams joining the duo.

The season started off well as the Eagles compiled 20 wins in a row and were one of only two teams to be undefeated at the time. The team's first loss occurred at Notre Dame on February 8, 2005. Following its setback, BC beat unranked Rutgers and then No. 9 Syracuse on February 19, vaulting them in the polls to No. 3 in both the AP and coaches' polls — the highest any Boston College basketball team has even been ranked.

Ranked fourth in the Tournament, the Eagles took care of the Penn Quakers with an 85-65 thrashing and then took on Milwaukee, who had upset Alabama. UWM pulled another upset with an 83-75 win over Boston College and sent the Eagles home still unable to get back to the Sweet Sixteen. BC had not advanced past the second round since 1994.

Sean Williams’s stats did not jump out that year even though he managed to shoot 65.2 from the field and block two shots a game. The trouble had already begun as Williams had missed some games due to not attending classes regularly.

Another year came and went as Williams continued to help and punish the Eagles. An off-season incident concerning drug use in May involving center Sean Williams lead to his suspension for the first semester from BC campus and from the team, and his playing status for the entire season was in doubt up until a court hearing in December. Williams set the BC single-season record for blocked shots in 2004-05 with 63. Although not allowed back to Chestnut Hill until the end of the first semester and contingent upon a court hearing, Williams took courses and worked out at the University of Houston in the fall of 2005. He was allowed to return after a Boston judge decided he had fulfilled his commitment and the school gave their approval because he met his academic requirements.

He came back strong to help the Boston team into the tournament. In the Sweet Sixteen match up, with the score tied and pressure on the line, Williams blocked a potential game winning three pointer by Kyle Lowry to force the game into overtime.

What turned out to be the winner minutes later was a goaltending call on Sean Williams. Surmounted and disappointed, Sean Williams head dropped to his knees. The chance was over.

Though the heart breaking moments were still fresh as they took to the court the next fall, there was trouble brewing elsewhere. Williams under heavy criticism from higher figures for smoking marijuana and skipping classes was banned from the school after just 15 games. He was done and he knew it but those few games he played, he managed to swat 75 shots averaging an astonishing five blocks per game. Now they were watching.

Criticized by many of the ESPN staff on how smart of a character Sean Williams really was even though he successfully scored over 800 the first time he took the SAT. His draft stock was hurt. Portrayed as betraying their faith and was consequently unequivocally shown the door after refusing to change his ways. Williams left with his tail between his legs.

Teams like Charlotte and Houston took interest in him as New Jersey was looking elsewhere at Big Baby and Josh McRoberts. As reports came in, the news did not look good for Williams.

"..Now with the information we have in front of us, it would be difficult to see him cracking the first round, unless a team decides to ignore the potential negative PR that is bound to come with gambling on him. NBA teams have begun to shy away from taking head case types with checkered pasts over the last few years (see Banks, Sean), and they haven’t exactly been burned or proven wrong. From what NBA types have been telling us, it’s their ownership in particular who have taken a hard stance against adding players who are known to be unable to stay out of trouble."

With Glen Davis, Splitter and McRoberts still on the board, the Nets went against what everyone else was doing and choose him just like the year earlier and took a risk on a troubled player hoping for them to be thankful for the hope.

Rod Thorn speaking on Williams said, "There is not an athlete within this draft who was any more athletic than this kid and he brings a shot blocking presence and a defensive presence that our team needs. We tried to look at it, we got all the information we could, we tried to disseminate it and at the end of the day we felt the risk was worth it.

Our feeling was that we needed a player like this, since Kenyon. A player of this athleticism and of this ability. Here we’ve got one. Had there been no issues, he wouldn’t have been there. I emphasize, where we were picking, our feeling was this was a guy if things go well – if he does reach his potential – he could be sensational. He has that kind of athletic ability."

Grateful to have a team that actually wanted him, Sean went straight to work. Rather than waiting two years to receive playing time, Williams wanted to make a difference now and there was no better team than the dysfunctional Nets frontcourt.

"I’m just going to come and try to bring a lot of energy and play defense, and run the floor. (Shot-blocking), that’s all I could do when I started playing basketball."

Raw and talented, Williams began his rookie career in the summer league where the other Williams took most of the spotlight while Sean adjusted to the pace of the NBA. Over the course of those four weeks of training, Williams earned praise from Frank to Carter and many others for his hustle and the way he could leap over anything.

Seven games into the young season, Williams has been getting more praise than ever. Already putting up better numbers than Al Horford, Joakim Noah and many others picked miles ahead of him, Williams is slowly shaping into one of the best big men of the 2007 draft.

With more performances like the one against Miami, Sean Williams is proving that raw material can turn into finished goods faster than you blink your eyes. Rather Williams stays a starter or moves back to the bench, the freak of nature will be swatting bombs away from the hoops in East Rutherford and downtown Brooklyn for many years to come.

A mere six years ago, Williams picked up a basketball and ever since then, it has been freakishly amazing.