Living with Regret: Jay Williams was once suicidal after tragic accident ended playing career
Life is filled with choices. Most of them mundane, some monumental. No one makes the right decisions all of the time. Some are lucky to have made the wrong decisions at some point in their lives but miraculously emerge from a situation unscathed. Others make the wrong choice and it alters the course of their life forever.
If you’re seeking a cautionary tale, look no further than former NBA player Jay Williams.
Williams was selected with the No. 2 overall pick of the 2002 draft by the Chicago Bulls after a decorated collegiate career at Duke University, which included an NCAA title, a national college player of the year award and two consensus first team All-American selections.
After a decent rookie season, where he recorded a triple-double, Williams crashed his motorcycle into a streetlight a couple of miles away from his home in June 2003. Although Williams maintains he wasn’t being reckless on the motorcycle before his accident, he does admit the fast-paced pro lifestyle did get to his head once he entered the league.
“After my rookie season is where I [expletive] it all up,” Williams recently told the Brilliant Idiots’ podcast. “Don’t we all have [expletive] in contracts that we’re not supposed to do? Isn’t that life though? Here’s the thing. I never had money before. So all of a sudden someone gives me a lot of money and are like, ‘Hey, go fly with it.’ We didn’t have that type of money before.
“My family was mid-tier. So now you’re allowed to do whatever you want. You can fly on a private plane. You can get your mom a $10,000 fur coat. You can form a family business. It’s hard for that not to go to a 21-year-old’s head. Now, all of a sudden, I’m that dude. Now when I drive down I-90, I have billboard with my face on it. What the [expletive] is that? It’s not reality. It’s warped. Right? So for me, it was like when I saw other dudes doing things on planes, gambling money or doing whatever it might be, you start living that life. You say, ‘I can do that.’ Why wouldn’t I do that? It was just the lifestyle that came along with the property.”
The totality of the injuries suffered in the accident would ultimately force Williams out of the league and pushed the former star guard to the verge of suicide in the years to follow. Williams has a book set to be released in 2016 tentatively titled “Life is No Accident.” Although Williams missed out on plenty of future NBA earnings, he says he’s grateful to the Bulls for honoring a portion of his deal even after the tragic accident.
“I got lucky,” Williams said. “The Bulls blessed me with the second year of my deal, which they didn’t need to do. They were giving [the money] to me with the hopes I would be able to come back and play.
“I shattered my pelvis. I dislocated my knee, tore ligaments in my knee. But it’s not even the physical part that [expletive] me up. It’s the mental part. Living with it. That’s what my book is about. Living with all that [expletive] day-to-day. Knowing that you [expletive] up and you trying to let it go and other people keep reminding you that you [expletive] up. So you can’t let it go. It almost puts you into a mental misery of a jail cell.
“For a long time I wish I had just died. I felt it immediately. 100 percent. I didn’t know [my career] was over but I felt something different. It was different. My body was different. When I hit that pole, I knew something was wrong and I wasn’t going to be able to bounce right back.”
Williams was rare for a collegiate star athlete in that he stayed in school three years despite being a projected top five pick after his sophomore season. As a word of advice, Williams believes athletes in his same situation should make the leap to the NBA and maximize their potential earnings.
“I should have left (school) my sophomore year to be real with you,” Williams said. “It was the wrong move for me to stay. This is where my pops helps me out with certain things. Let’s look at the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Let’s break it down.
“So when the NBA implemented the weighted scale if you came out and you were the eighth pick in the draft that equates to a certain amount of money. There’s no huge discrepancy from the first pick or the eighth pick. I mean, there is … you might get $2 million compared to $4 million. But before they implemented that weighted scale, if you were a top five pick that’s when Glenn Robinson (No. 1 overall pick, 1994 draft) signed that [10-year, $68 million] deal.
“But if it’s a weighted scale, you might as well [leave school early]. Look I would be trying to get my second contract as quick as possible. I’m trying to get my big money as quick as possible because I’m trying to get as many contracts as I can. That’s why you see LeBron [James] always exercising his deals. [The system] isn’t built for the player to be successful, it’s built for the owners to be successful. So you have to gamble.”
Although Williams starred at Duke, he confesses his first choice was to play for the University of North Carolina but was turned down by then-coach Bill Guthridge.
“I spent more time at Chapel Hill than I did at Duke,” Williams said reflecting on his time on campus. “I’m a diehard Tar Heel fan. Diehard Tar Heel fan. I got turned down. We drove down there for an unofficial visit. Bill Guthridge had just been named the new head coach after Dean Smith retired and he pretty much said there wasn’t enough room on their roster for me. [UNC had] Ronald Curry at the time. He was a beast though.”
Williams averaged 9.5 points and 4.7 assists per game in 75 contests during his lone season in the league back in 2002-03. He has made several comeback attempts over the years, but his body hasn’t held up under the stress.
NBA Daily: Wesley Matthews Adapting To Bucks
Spencer Davies has a one-on-one chat with Milwaukee Bucks veteran Wesley Matthews about his recent offensive success, last season’s hectic few months and how he’s adjusted to his new team.
Adapt or perish.
That has been an all-too-familiar saying for over a century. It can be applied to anything in life that comes somebody’s way, whether it’s by a change of circumstance, an unexpected curveball out of nowhere or a new challenge ahead somebody did expect to happen.
Wesley Matthews makes a living out of adjusting.
Just this time last year, the veteran guard was playing in his third season for the middling Dallas Mavericks. One month into 2019, he was traded to the New York Knicks when his old ball club decided to strike a massive trade to create the future international duo of Kristaps Porzings and Luka Doncic.
Matthews’ stay in the Big Apple was short-lived — two games, to be precise. From that point, the Knicks agreed to buy him out so he could sign with a competing playoff team. Looking for a solution to fill the void left by Victor Oladipo, the Indiana Pacers came calling, and he got his wish. He finished the year and postseason in Indianapolis before becoming a free agent in the summer.
In discussing those crazy last few months, Matthews downplayed any sort of difficulty it had on him as a player.
“It’s just basketball,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “Obviously, different organizations, different schemes, different technical things just as far as on-court. But at the end of the day, it’s basketball. There’s two baskets. There’s 10 people playing at a time. Three refs. One ball. The basket’s 10 feet high. Same rules. [We’ve] been playing this game since we were three, four years old.”
The 2019 offseason brought about a fresh start. In search of a way to build around Giannis Antetokounmpo with some old pieces gone elsewhere, the Milwaukee Bucks came to terms with Matthews on a two-year contract, including a player option for next year.
Considering his past as a standout athlete at James Madison Memorial High School about 90 minutes down the road in Wisconsin, the decision was easy.
“I put in the work in the offseason, trained to be ready for any kind of situation I may face,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “As far as coming back home, coming back to Milwaukee — the opportunity just presented itself. There was a role and a need on both sides, and I’m happy to be home.”
For the Bucks, the feeling is mutual. Sporting an 18-3 record and outscoring their opponents by over 12 points per game, they are off to the hottest start among their peers.
According to Cleaning The Glass, they boast the top net rating (plus-11.7) and effective field goal percentage (55.8), plus the second-best offensive (114.3) and defensive rating (102.6) in the entire NBA. That’s what happens when you consistently get stops and get out in transition the way they have.
But even with all the success that Milwaukee has had in the first quarter of the season, Matthews sees something different standing out.
“Honestly, the ones that we let go, that we let get away,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “This team is obviously built to succeed on both ends of the court. Obviously, having Giannis is a tremendous asset to us. But a lot of ups and a lot of downs, even within the wins. [There are] ways to get better and an opportunity to continue to get better as the season goes on.”
Despite the point differential they’ve established, Matthews is referring to the losses — and even the victories — where the Bucks have had slippage. Whether it’s a few lackadaisical possessions in a row or a whole quarter, there have been a number of instances in which the team has allowed its opposition to make big runs and crack into a lead that should have left no doubt.
Take a recent trip to Northeast Ohio as an example. Going into halftime, Milwaukee had a commanding 20-point lead on the Cleveland Cavaliers, and it wasn’t a particularly close game as the score indicated. But the home squad responded loudly in the third quarter, nailing 10 threes en route to 42 points.
It was a comfortable advantage that was cut down to a single possession game in the final period. Still, the Bucks maintained their composure and found a way to win in a raucous Friday night environment on the road.
Milwaukee head coach Mike Budenholzer sees situations like these as teaching moments.
“We’ve had more close games,” Budenholzer said. “Last year, it felt like at times we were going long stretches without a close game. So hopefully, we’re learning how to execute down the stretch, play smarter down the stretch. Sometimes we haven’t, but you learn when you don’t.
“I’ve been impressed with the guys coming back. I think there’s a focus in wanting to get better, improve and I think you’re seeing it on the court.”
Speaking of improving, Matthews fits that bill. After an initial month of ups and downs on the offensive end of the floor, including an unusual night of zero attempts from the floor in Chicago, the decade-long vet has found his footing.
Since Nov. 20, Matthews has registered double-digit scoring efforts in six of eight games. During that stretch, he’s averaging 11.3 points per game on 45.2 percent from distance. Per NBA.com, the Bucks have been scoring 120.6 points per 100 possessions in that time, which is an increase of 10 before then.
Budenholzer figures that some of the slow start had to do with getting used to a new environment, but that’s not the only reason. More opportunities to get involved have been there as of late because his teammates are starting to understand where he’s going to be.
“I think he’s getting a little more comfortable finding some opportunities to cut, slash and backdoor people for some easy layups,” Budenholzer said. “Getting some free throws and he’s shooting the three-ball better. So you do those things and all of a sudden you’re getting to double figures quickly.”
Matthews chalks it up to the spacing of Budenholzer’s system that allows him to operate. However, again, he didn’t make much of the shooting woes due to the team’s success.
“It’s the early part of the season, you know? Obviously, it’s just getting familiar with a new team,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “Guys getting familiar with me, me getting familiar with them. Different positions, different areas.
“I mean, sports is like life. Everything changes, always. You have to adapt. You have to evolve. You have to grow. You have to get comfortable. So if shooting from the three is the thing that I’m struggling with…I’m comfortable with those going up.”
Matthews hangs his hat on the defensive end. He’s savvy in guarding his assignment and has been for quite some time. While he doesn’t defend many isolations, opponents are scoring just 0.27 points per possession on such occasions. He does an excellent job shutting down ball-handlers in the pick-and-roll too, ranking in the 98th percentile in the league, per NBA.com.
And yet, Matthews always desires more.
“Doing everything. Slashing, getting to the paint, making the right plays,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “If three-point shooting is what’s going down, then it’s just a matter of time before those start to fall.”
Matthews has been a staple in the Association for a while now. Most recall his breakout with the Portland Trail Blazers, where he spent half of his career defining what an ideal three-and-D wing should be. Unfortunately, that final season came to a crashing halt when he sustained a season-ending torn left Achilles in March 2015. The Pacific Northwest’s favorite “Iron Man” who played through the majority of his injuries could no longer do so.
That was the end of Matthews’ tenure with the Blazers. From that point on, he had to rehab and battle to get back to form. He admits that it took time to do so returning quickly from the setback, but when asked by Basketball Insiders if he feels the same physically now as he did then, he didn’t hesitate to answer.
“Yeah. Absolutely,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “I feel great. I feel like [I’m] defending like the old me, moving like the old me. Feel good.”
There you have it. Whether it’s been coming back from a major injury, switching teams or getting acclimated to a new system, Matthews has always been able to handle it.
Not many players are able to stick around in the NBA for 10 years. In spite of the obstacles thrown his way, Matthews has done more than that.
“I’m adaptable,” Matthews told Basketball Insiders. “I’ve been playing this game for a long time. As long as they don’t change the shape of the ball and the rim, I’ll be fine.”
After all, it’s just basketball.
NBA Daily: DPOY Watch — 12/3/2019
A new name forces his way into the top-five, as other candidates’ cases for NBA Defensive Player of the Year rise and fall based on small early-season sample sizes. Jack Winters revisits DPOY Watch in the first week of December.
Inevitable early-season variance has shaken up the NBA Defensive Player of the Year race. As tempting as it is to overreact to numbers and analysis gleaned from a small sample size, though, season-long trends and historical precedent has left our top-five and honorable mention selections filled by expected candidates.
Here’s where Defensive Player of the Year Watch stands six weeks into the regular season.
Honorable Mention: Jonathan Isaac — Orlando Magic, Bam Adebayo — Miami Heat, Pascal Siakam — Toronto Raptors, Kawhi Leonard — LA Clippers, Patrick Beverley — LA Clippers.
5. Anthony Davis – Los Angeles Lakers
The Lakers’ early-season honeymoon is probably over. A Charmin soft schedule saw them face 10 consecutive sub-.500 foes before falling to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday, a loss that, not coincidentally, ended their 10-game winning streak. Eight of Los Angeles’ next 10 games are on the road, with seven of them coming against teams with winning records, leading up to a highly-anticipated showdown against the LA Clippers on Christmas.
Davis’ commitment on defense waned a bit over the past two weeks, as the Lakers easily beat up on inferior opponents. They now rank just outside the top-five in defensive rating after surrendering 109.8 points per 100 possessions since the last DPOY watch, and actually fared better on that end with Davis on the bench. His unsustainably dominant defense at the rim has waned, too; opponents shot 63.6 percent against him in last two weeks, and he challenged just 4.7 shots per game from the restricted area.
Still, don’t expect Davis to sit outside the top-three on this list for long. Los Angeles should vault back up the team-wide defensive rankings in December by being forced to play with maximum intensity and engagement, and a recommitted Davis is most likely to be the driving force behind that rise.
4. Marcus Smart – Boston Celtics
Smart is the most readily and disruptively switchable defender in the NBA, and it’s not particularly close. Even prime Draymond Green didn’t quite match his singular ability to check five positions without the likelihood of negative recourse. Smart is just as effective hounding ball-dominant point guards as he is frustrating superstar wings, and just as capable of fighting bigs on the block as he is chasing marksman around the arc.
The Celtics rank fifth in defensive rating, per Cleaning the Glass. Their 104 points allowed per 100 possessions barely moves whether Smart is on the floor or on the bench, an indication of just how loaded they are with intelligent, versatile and dogged defenders.
But watch any Boston game, and it becomes almost immediately apparent how immensely valuable he is defensively – whether guarding three different players on a given possession, kicking out an inferior post defender on the flight of the ball or lighting a fire into the Celtics with relentless hustle.
3. Rudy Gobert – Utah Jazz
The Jazz have dropped four of their last five games. And while Mike Conley’s widespread offensive labors have returned after he seemed to be finding his footing in mid-November, it’s the other side of the ball that’s been Utah’s biggest problem.
The Jazz’s defensive rating over the last two weeks is 110, a number that would rank in the league’s bottom third over the full season. They’ve actually been a hair stingier with Gobert on the bench than the floor, but any notion that a defensive dip is owed to a decline in his impact isn’t supported by film or the data.
Utah’s opponent expected field goal percentage is lower with Gobert on the court over that same timeframe, and its defensive rebounding rate substantially higher. The Jazz are fouling less and turning teams over far more with him in the lineup, too, and Gobert has allowed an elite 43.5 percent shooting at the rim.
The two-time reigning DPOY ranked relatively low on this list coming into 2019-20, due to the possibility his team would take a step back on defense by virtue of exclusively playing four-out lineups. Six weeks since tipoff of the regular season, that dynamic has finally reared its ugly head on the floor. What it means for Gobert’s chances to win a record-tying third consecutive DPOY award, though, is in the eye of the beholder.
2. Giannis Antetokounmpo – Milwaukee Bucks
So much for Antetokounmpo’s absence here.
Two weeks ago in the second in-season edition of DPOY watch, Antetokounmpo was at the top of honorable mention, squeezed out of the top-five in part by a preference to highlight a newcomer – in that case, Jonathan Isaac. But the justification behind bumping him down the rankings was also his positive net defensive rating, which suggested the Bucks were better on that side of the ball with the reigning MVP on the bench.
That’s a ridiculous assertion, of course, but one the numbers no less indicated due to Milwaukee’s team-wide prowess on that side of the ball, which early in the season most manifested itself from the bench. But that dynamic flipped on its head over the past two weeks, with Antetokounmpo posting a -12.8 net defensive rating, second among regulars behind Sterling Brown.
What changed? Nothing at all with regard to Antetokounmpo, specifically. He’s still the same game-changing presence he’s been all season. But sample size always plays a role before the New Year, and the Bucks’ starters weren’t quite blitzing opponents the way they did last season. They are now, and Antetokounmpo remains the biggest reason why.
1. Joel Embiid – Philadelphia 76ers
The data is just undeniable.
Embiid isn’t the most active defender. His hands are often below his shoulders and he seldom leaves the paint, making it easy to assume he’s less engaged than other upper-echelon defenders. And compared to a player like Rudy Gobert, who built his career on defense and is barely more than a screener and rim-runner even after years of development, that’s just as true as it is understandable given Embiid’s far broader offensive responsibilities.
But make no mistake, Embiid is every bit as impactful as each player on this list. Case in point: Embiid sits alone at the very top of Cleaning the Glass’ individual net defensive ratings. Why? Philadelphia allowed effective field goal percentage is 6.8 points lower with him in the game, and its sky-high opponent free throw rate dips by 8.3 points. The Sixers surrender 7.7 percent fewer shots at the rim with Embiid in the lineup, the second-biggest margin in basketball, and their league-leading defensive rebound rate gets even better, too.
In a different system, not surrounded by impact defenders, Embiid’s occasional lapses of energy defensively could prove more problematic. But he remains a perfect fit for Philadelphia’s scheme, and one of the several most influential defenders in all of basketball.
NBA Daily: Royce O’Neale — Ultimate Glue Guy
As the Utah Jazz look to contend for a title this season, they will rely on the services of their unheralded glue guy. Quinn Davis chats with Royce O’Neale about his role and ascent from undrafted to valuable NBA starter.
In 2014, while Royce O’Neale was a junior at Baylor, then-Texas Tech coach Tubby Smith was asked about O’Neale’s talents.
“He doesn’t get the real attention, but he’s kind of the glue guy,” answered Smith.
That “glue guy” phrase can be written off as a cliche, but it is a label that has followed O’Neale his entire career and has defined his time with the Jazz. After being undrafted and spending two seasons overseas in Spain and Germany, the Jazz took a chance on O’Neale and netted a versatile wing defender and consistent shooter.
O’Neale’s tendency to focus on the little things without dominating the ball may be part of the reason his path to the NBA was so winding. In his senior season at Baylor, O’Neale averaged only 10 points, 6 rebounds and 3 assists. He did shoot nearly 44 percent from deep and excel defensively that season, but that three-and-D archetype was not as in vogue in 2015 as it is now.
The lack of numerical production likely contributed to him slipping under the radar and into the overseas talent pool.
It may have taken him longer than expected, but two years later, O’Neale would land in a great situation with a budding Jazz team that featured two young studs in Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. The collection of talent allowed him to immediately step in and fill his usual role on the fringes.
After starting the 2017-18 season mostly on the bench, he quickly became a fixture in the Jazz rotation towards the end of that November. His first start came in February against the Portland Trail Blazers. In that game, O’Neale tallied 4 points, 11 rebounds, 6 assists, and 2 steals while being a team-high plus-28.
From there, it was abundantly clear what O’Neale would bring to the team every night. He saw almost 20 minutes per game after that and took on an even a larger role in the 2018 playoffs when the Jazz fell to a tough Houston Rockets team in the second round.
Now in his third season, O’Neale has earned himself a starting role on a Jazz team that many expect to contend for a championship. He is up to 48 percent from three and has improved his passing. His defense remains stout as he guards any position 1-4.
Basketball Insiders asked Jazz head coach Quin Snyder which of O’Neale’s abilities he was most impressed by.
“He’s trying to make the right play,” Snyder said. “He’s been able to drive the ball quickly and get to the rim. The opportunities he has right now are catch-and-shoot threes. Those are good shots. He’s taking big shots like that in the clutch, and if he had an 0-10 night I’d be okay it.”
The comment on driving to the rim is a key point here. O’Neale has been a great three-and-D player, but adding that extra ability to punish a sloppy closeout could make him even more dangerous offensively. He has shown flashes of this ability, as he does here on a dribble hand-off against the Philadelphia 76ers.
Even with those offensive improvements though, defense remains O’Neale’s calling card. He has been asked to mirror guards and wings alike, doing so at an elite level on the season. Just a few games ago, he welcomed Ja Morant to the NBA by smothering him early in the first quarter.
The Jazz defense is holding opponents to 6 fewer points per 100 possessions with O’Neale on the court compared to him on the bench, per Cleaning the Glass. When he and Gobert share the court, they allow only 98.7 points per 100 possessions, a stingy number.
Basketball Insiders spoke to Royce O’Neale briefly before his game against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night.
O’Neale credits his role-filling ability to a tendency to play almost every position at a young age.
“I was allowed to make plays for myself while still making plays for others,” O’Neale told Basketball Insiders.
Basketball Insiders also asked O’Neale about what he picked up playing in Europe before he made his way to Utah. “Physicality” was the immediate word that came to mind. He also noted the importance of team basketball that is stressed overseas as something that allowed him to step into an NBA role so seamlessly.
Finally, O’Neale avoided any specificity when asked how he would like to further improve his game.
“Just becoming a better offensive and defensive player. And a better shooter,” O’Neale told Basketball Insiders. As mentioned, the work O’Neale has done on is shot has been clear. If the work ethic is consistent, the rest of his game should follow suit.
O’Neale’s rise from undrafted free agent to a valuable starter on a contender leads to questions about player scouting. Are players with the skills and malleability of O’Neale flying under the radar due to the lack of statistical production?
Take a player of a similar profile like Draymond Green. Green went to a larger school than O’Neale in Michigan State and had more of a national audience, but he still fell to the second round due to what many in the NBA considered a low ceiling. Seven years later, Green is a three-time All-Star and NBA Champion.
Of course, this is not to say that more Draymond Greens are busting their butts in Spain. But valuable contributors are likely waiting to fill an NBA role thanks to their versatility and the team-first fundamentalism being stressed overseas.
O’Neale will be up for a new contract at the end of this season. After being undervalued for most of his career, he may finally get his just due.
Whether it is the Jazz or another team on the hunt for glory, there is always a need for the perfect glue guy.