Chicago Bulls rookie Patrick Williams had a few goals for his first trip to his hometown of Charlotte as an NBA pro.
▪ He wanted to get a win (check, the Bulls beat the Hornets 123-110 Friday).
▪ He wanted to see his folks (check, Mom and Dad spent some time with him in the hotel lobby before the game).
▪ And he really, really wanted to get some fried chicken before he left town (he planned to ask before the team flew home after the game).
“I’m definitely ready to get some Bojangles’,” Williams said Friday afternoon, hours before the game, with a big grin creeping across his face. “We don’t have that (in Chicago). Maybe before I get on the flight, I’ll ask if we can get some Bojangles’. I know the rest of the guys are looking forward to it as well. They always say Bojangles’ is a favorite spot to come to whenever they are here.”
Life has changed awful fast for Williams, 19, who was busy leading West Charlotte High School to the N.C. 4A state championship game less than two years ago.
In the spring of 2019, Williams played in the Jordan Brand Classic All-Star game, an annual event put on by Hornets’ owner Michael Jordan’s famous shoe brand.
Later that year, Williams started playing at Florida State. He didn’t start a game, averaged 9.2 points and won ACC Sixth Man of the year.
After the season, Williams so intrigued NBA scouts and coaches with his still-developing frame and skill — Williams is 6-8 and 225 pounds and growing — that he rose from a projected mid-round first-round pick to the lottery.
Chicago drafted him No. 4 overall, making Williams just the fifth player from Charlotte to go in the top 10 of the draft: Stephen Curry was No. 7 in 2009; Antawn Jamison No. 4 in 1998; Walter Davis No. 5 in 1977; and Bobby Jones was No. 5 in 1974.
And yes, that puts Williams in some really lofty company.
Curry may end up as one of the best point guards who ever played. Jones, a former UNC star, Olympian and NBA world champion, is in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame. Jamison ranks No. 50 all-time in NBA scoring and he was once a national college player of the year. Davis? He’s an Olympic gold medalist, No. 55 all-time in NBA scoring and had an offensive game so nice folks called him simply “Sweet D.”
So Williams is already in elite company, and he wants a career like those guys.
“I just want to be a really good player,” Williams said. “Whatever that looks like for me, I’m not entirely sure yet. But I think that’s part of the process, just being able to find your way in this league. It’s definitely not easy. That’s why everybody doesn’t do it. But I just want to be a really good player. I want to impact the game in many different ways. So I’m super excited to see what that looks like, you know, seven years down the road, and to see the progress that I’ve made from Day One, so I’m just ready for the process.”
Williams high school coach: ‘I saw this coming’
On Thursday night, Williams’ high school coach, Jacoby Davis Sr., was talking with his son, Jacoby Jr, who is one of Williams’ best friends.
The Davises were talking about Williams coming home as an NBA pro (Williams signed a reported four-year, $32 million deal) and how fast all of this has happened. And they both laughed, reminiscing about Williams’ final workout before he went to college.
“The day before he was going to go, and (Jacoby Davis) Junior was going to take him to Florida State, his mom (Janie Williams) came and watched him work out at West Charlotte,” Davis Sr. said.
Williams worked out hard, sweat pouring and sneakers squeaking, for two hours. There was nobody in the gym except his Mom, his coach and his buddy.
“But he always worked out like that,” Davis Sr. said. “And I remember I told him, ‘If you stay who you are, you will be a pro in a year.’ His mom is all about empowerment, and you’ve got to speak it. So when I said that, she gave me the head nod and said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ ”
“He just smiled,” Davis said. “He shook his head. He believed it. I’m telling you, I saw this coming. But that wasn’t the first time I said it, but I wanted him to think about it.”
Just a few months ago, when Davis joined the Williams’ family for a draft night party in Charlotte, Davis upped the ante a little.
“I said, on draft night, that ‘If you stay who you are, you can be Rookie of the Year, and you can be in the league a long time,’ ” Davis said. “I think he’s going to be special in that league.”
“He just smiled,” Davis said. “He shook his head.”
He believed it.
Talent and size come together
Both of Patrick Williams’ parents — Janie and Eddie — played college basketball at Johnson C. Smith.
Growing up, Williams played guard and then started a serious growth spurt as he got into high school, eventually adding seven inches. The guard skills — the dribbling and passing remained — and Williams quickly emerged as a top-40 national recruit.
But before his senior year of high school began, Davis called Williams the most underrated prospect in America.
And Williams, almost like he was on a mission to prove his coach right, had an absolutely menacing senior season of high school.
He was too fast for big players, too strong for small players.
No one had an answer.
“He just flat out dominated,” said Duane Lewis, the coach of nationally ranked North Mecklenburg High, West Charlotte’s chief rival and defending state champions. “I didn’t know him well, but he was always classy. It didn’t matter if we won or they won. It was always, ‘Good game, sir.’ He carried himself so well. But man, what a player. He had a dunk on us at North one night, and we thought he broke the goal. ... Patrick is as good as anyone I’ve seen in the 23 years I’ve been coaching.”
Davis said as good a player as Williams was then, and is now, that he’s just as good a kid.
At Florida State, Williams made the ACC Academic Honor Roll. At West Charlotte, Davis said teachers and administrators all loved the 6-8 star, and said Williams was so humble that he always made time for everybody.
“There was a kid at our school that people just wouldn’t hang around,” Davis said. “He’s a good kid, but he didn’t have a lot of friends. One day, he asked a few kids for a ride to the barbershop. No one would take him. Pat saw him. He said, ‘I got you.’ ”
Davis said when you put this type of character and intelligence and ability together, he just thought Williams was can’t miss.
“I watched him grow up,” Davis said. “He used to come to the gym to watch his older brother play and my son play. You coach kids like Jarrell Eddie (Virginia Tech, European pro) and Ian Miller (Florida State, European pro) and you know what to look for. We all as coaches said, ‘Patrick’s got a chance.’ You could see it by the end of his sophomore year. It was like, ‘This boy is gonna make it. He might be that one.’
“And he put the work in. And he was a model kid. All the teachers loved him, all the administrators, all the students. You see kids who have been pacified from middle school, and some of these AAU teams make these kids feel like they’re above everything. This kid was never like that. His parents kept him humble.”
On LeBron and tomorrow
Davis, Davis Jr. and most of Williams’ friends and family had to watch on TV Friday night when the Bulls beat the Hornets because of NBA COVID-19 protocols.
Williams came into the game averaging 10.2 points, 3.8 rebounds and 1.1 assists in 26.9 minutes per game. Besides perhaps emerging as the Bulls’ best defender, he was also shooting 50 percent (14 of 28) from 3-point range.
Williams ranked in the top 10 in scoring and rebounding among NBA rookies.
Friday was his first game back after suffering a hip injury Sunday against the Mavericks. He didn’t play in Monday’s game against Houston.
He played 16 minutes against the Hornets on Friday and had four points and six rebounds, making 2-of-7 shots. But he won’t have long to think about this rare off game.
The Bulls play again quickly. That’s been the biggest adjustment in the NBA, Williams said.
“It’s tough,” he said. “You come back to town for a day, sleep in your own bed for a night, two nights, and then you’re on the road again. It’s just how quickly the games come. ... So (my teammates) have been doing a great job, just checking in on me and making sure I’m straight, making sure my mind is focused and that I’m ready for each and every game.”
On Saturday night, the Bulls will play LeBron James and the world champion Lakers at home. Earlier this month, Chicago coach Billy Donovan asked Williams to guard the best player in the world.
Los Angeles won 117-115 and James had 28 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, but Williams played him tough.
And the player everyone calls “The King” had high praise for a potential Rookie of the Year candidate afterward.
“I think he’s going to be a next-level talent,” James said. “He’s got long arms and has Kawhi (Leonard)-type hands that I noticed out on the floor. I think he’s going to continue to get better and better. ... (He) has a great in-between (the 3-point line and basket) game. ... That’s going to benefit him a lot through the course of this season and the course of his career.
“I think Chicago has a good one.”
Asked about James’ comments Friday, Williams was typically nonchalant.
“I just looked at it like another job,” he said. “It was a game against a tough, tough Lakers team that we’ve got to play again Saturday. So my name was called to guard LeBron, so that’s what I did. I tried to do it as (well as I could). But he’s a great player. So he’s going to make his shots. And as far as what he said after the game, I really haven’t seen it. I kind of have seen like bits and pieces. But I mean, for somebody of that stature to compliment anything about my game is always a blessing, but we’ve got them (Saturday), so I have got to answer the bell tomorrow.”