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The Education of a Net’s "Rook"

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By Matt McQueeny,
Nets All Access

Sean Williams will tell you—for at least this season—that he does not expect to be called by his birth-given name. Perhaps in year number two.

"My name isn’t Sean Williams anymore, it’s rook," said the Nets’ 2007 first-round draft pick.

"And rook has to do whatever anybody says. So rook has to get towels for people to take shows, rook has to get up because nobody else has a seat on the bus."

And right before each road trip, "rook" has to get the Popeye’s chicken for the team’s bus to the airport.

"And I have to pay for it," said Williams. "I feel like I’m a nice dude so I might switch it up and bring some variety to the equation."

Bringing variety into the equation is also something he is trying to do in his first season with the Nets. There are few – if any -- players on the team with the inborn athleticism and shot-blocking prowess of the 21-year-old, but the sentiment coming out of his Orlando summer league in July was that he was "green" and "raw".

"The rookie has been better than people may have thought after his Orlando experience," said Nets General Manager Ed Stefanski, calling Williams by that new name.

"I think most people in the gym are pleasantly surprised at how well he’s done."

In Williams professional preseason debut in Charlotte on October 15th, he had a modest overall stat line in 13 minutes of play: four points, five rebounds, a block, three turnovers, and five personal fouls.

But it was that one block – and an impressive jam – that left Vince Carter impressed with Sean’s athletic ability.

"[Raymond] Felt maybe was going for a lay-up and I happened to turn to see and to react to it," said Carter. "But I saw Sean flying out of nowhere to block it and he catches it at about the top of the square, on the left side, puts in on the glass, comes down with it, and starts the break. Once I saw that he was up there going to block it, I was like ‘alright we out, let’s go.’ He’s definitely a game-changer; he can change your shot just with his ability to get up in the air."

As we are left to only the myths of oral tradition – the against the Bobcats was not televised – Carter also talked about an impressive dunk that Sean threw down.

"It was a miss, and the ball was going up. He and (Emeka) Okafor were going up and up. He just kept going up a little higher and once he caught, it he kind of waited for Okafor to come down. And he came down and just dunked it with two hands."

Sean gave glimpses of those outbursts of athleticism all throughout training cam; the coaches have alos been happy with the fact that his competitive edge has risen with the competition.

For Sean, now at the NBA level, he needs to work on his positioning on the defensive end. In college, he admitted that he would "bait" the opponents into thinking they had the step on him going to the hoop. Once that player thought he was in the clear, Sean would come out of nowhere and block the shot with his omnipresent wingspan.

"I was testing people," said Williams.

"(College coach Al) Skinner told me ‘I don’t want you doing that on my team.’ Because the rest of my teammates, they would start doing it too. It’s not good team defense when have one person defending the basket and everyone’s testing that one player."

"Blocking shot, it’s something I feel. But against this level of competition, it’s a lot different. These dudes are crafty. Like Vince – I haven’t found a way to get into his hot (in practices). He’s come right at me at time, and I’m wondering how I didn’t get it or wondering how he got it off. It’s definitely going to be more learning. Not just to block shots but to play better defense. Play better position defense."

"Oh yeah, there’s a couple of times – even today – where he was trying to wait on it," aid Carter.

"I know you got to go quicker than he does, got to the rim faster than he does. So he’s learning. I think it’s great for him because he’s playing against different styles, like my type of style, and RJ’s (Richard Jefferson) type of style. Instead of reacting or waiting for you and then reacting, he’s kind of learning that he has to react or be in the proper position to block shots now. It’s going to help him; it’s definitely going to help him."

"Coach (Frank), he wants me to be ahead of the play," said Williams. "I have to practice doing what coach wants me to do but still being able to bait people. Because that’s my favorite thing to do – make people think you have a shot. If I make you think you have a shot, but I really don’t know I can get to it, that’s where I’m effective."

It’s a lot to take in for the "rook", who had to make is first-ever Popeye’s run in anticipation of the trip down to Charlotte for his preseason game.

"All that chicken was gone," he said. "All that chicken was gone. They were mad at me and said I didn’t get enough but I got 50 pieces. C’mon."

That was only the beginning of the rookie hi-jinks.
"They (teammates) tried to raid my room and mess up my stuff, but I didn’t allow that."

"I had to use my strength to keep them out."

Using his strength to keep them out – it’s something the Nets hope he will be doing a good deal of around the basket.