Attendees of "Star Wars" conventions and top high school basketball teams don't tend to run in the same circle. However, if they happen to come across each other in the near future, they can all agree on one thing: They all have a strong appreciation for someone named Billy Dee Williams.Of course, in this case, those two groups will be referring to two different people, despite the fact that Billy Dee (or BillyDee, as the case may be) isn't exactly a common first name. Nonetheless, one of the emerging talents in the state of Florida, on what may be the most frequently viewed high school basketball team in the country, happens to share his name with the actor who portrayed Lando Calrissian in the original "Star Wars" trilogy.
While the spelling is slightly different -- the 52-year-old actor who spends most of his time at cult conventions is Billy Dee Williams, while the 17-year-old Winter Park (Fla.) High junior is BillyDee Williams -- both Williams share a certain panache that has given them a cult following. Like his forebear, the high school Williams has taken his first opportunity at a high-visibility role and run with it, earning plenty of plaudits while adapting to a role he never anticipated.
"This year I'm getting used to it because I was used to that starting role, but I'm comfortable with it now," Williams, who is the sixth man for nationally ranked Winter Park, told the Orlando Sentinel. "That mentality that you're that spark and you have to come off the bench with energy because those players need that rest, too. You need to come off with that same intensity that your teammate has."
Like the actor -- who benefitted from roles beside the likes of James Caan and Harrison Ford (though one could argue Ford was less established than Williams at the time) -- the high school Williams has often been noticed because of his proximity to one of the biggest names in his field. Williams transferred to Winter Park after spending two years at Evans (Fla.) High, a period in which his teams never won a single playoff game.
Thanks to the nationwide magnifying glass hovering over Winter Park because of its star, top recruit and Duke signee Austin Rivers, Williams, who is pictured right behind Rivers in the photo above, not only joined a team almost guaranteed to make a deep playoff run, he joined a team which had multiple nationally televised games on its schedule and plenty of collegiate scouts.
"When they bring attention, it brings attention to the whole team. If they get attention, we get attention," Williams told the Sentinel. "It brings us the opportunity to shine and show what we can do as well as coming off of the bench.
"You still have to work hard, even if you're coming off the bench, because you're trying to make the guy better that's ahead of you or trying to gain that starting spot. I'm working as hard as I can to help the guy that is in front of me get better."
Despite his inability to crack the starting lineup, Williams has turned heads in the 20-25 minutes per game he is on the court. The junior has been among the Wildcats' leading scorers and rebounders all season, averaging more than nine points and six rebounds per game. He's also shown a knack to compensate for off nights in one of those departments by working even harder on the other end of the court; while he was held to two points in Winter Park's playoff victory over Lake Howell (Fla.) High on Friday, he led the Wildcats with eight rebounds.
Whether or not the high school Williams can ever attain the fame of his more famous namesake or his much ballyhooed high school teammate remains to be seen. At the very least he can take comfort in the accomplishment of making himself the second most notable BillyDee (or Billy Dee) Williams around.
- Billy Dee Williams