(I know, I know — it's an old photo with Terrence Williams(notes) wearing his old number, which he changed from 8 to 1 before his sophomore season. But sometimes an old photo is also the perfect photo.)
It's been an eventful month for Terrence Williams of the New Jersey Nets, bookended by going all Soul Asylum on LeBron James(notes) and donating $20,000 to the city of Newark, N.J., to both buy holiday toys for children and "teach kids more about black history."
In between, the former Louisville standout got busted down to the D-League as a punishment for persistent tardiness, averaged a triple-double during a three-game stint in Massachusetts for the D-League's Springfield Armor, then promptly came back to the big show (well, as big a show as you can consider Avery Johnson's 6-18 squad).
Upon returning to the Nets, Williams told Colin Stephenson of the Newark Star-Ledger that the demotion caused him to re-evaluate his behavior (no, really):
"There definitely was an awakening," [Williams] said of his three-game experience in the D-League. "It woke me up a lot. I'm not going to sit here and give you the typical answers — everybody that goes to the D-League and comes back says, 'Yeah, I understood my lesson.' When I say I understood my lesson, I truly mean that, in the most sincere way, that I really understood going down there and it definitely woke me up, and hopefully helps my career in the long run."
The key elements that drove the lesson home, according to Williams? His mother crying after hearing the news and asking him if he'd been kicked out of the NBA — and some words of wisdom from an Armor ball boy.
Out of the mouths of babes:
"One of the ball boys there was 12 years old," Williams recalled. "[When] I started the first game, I was like, 'Do you watch the NBA?' He said, 'Yeah, you're one of the players I [like to] watch. Why would you blow it?' I was like, 'What are you talking about?' He said, 'Why would you want to have an attitude, and be late — the simplest things you can control? And you get to be in the NBA? I would die to do that, so don't blow it.'"
Hit the jump for more on T-Will's youth-administered wake-up call, including a video interview with the Armor's ball boy/motivational speaker.
[Rewind: Coaching wisdom comes from QB's wife]
It's a sentiment often shared by fans when they feel like professional athletes are unduly complaining or behaving immaturely — the notion that if John Q. Public got the same opportunity, the once-in-a-lifetime chance to play a game and be paid gobs of money for the privilege, he'd cherish every moment, work as hard as he possibly could every day, appreciate the tens of thousands of people who pay to watch him play, and so on.
Coming from grown sports writers, radio callers, commenters and the like, it's easy to just chalk that kind of talk up to sour grapes, the "U MAD" grumblings of weekend warriors still sore over never getting a shot on varsity. When the source is a kid, though, the tone changes. It's less about envy and anger, and more about curiosity and genuine disappointment, which is the worst; as anyone who ever got in trouble when they were a kid knows, it's always worse when your parents just sadly shake their heads at you than when they yell and scream.
After the news of Williams' wake-up call broke, ESPNNewYork.com contributor Mike Mazzeo caught up with the ball boy, eighth-grader Carlos Gonzalez Jr. (who's actually 13 years old, thank you very much). Gonzalez told Mazzeo he "believed he had to say something" to Williams as the 2009 first-round pick began his stretch in Springfield:
"I told him, 'You made a mistake and you shouldn't feel like you're down here because you're not a good ballplayer. You need to learn from it.' If I was him, I wouldn't want to be down here. I'd do anything to stay in the NBA.'" [...]
So what advice would Gonzalez give to Williams as he moves forward with his career?
"The past is over," Gonzalez said. "Just worry about what you're doing now. Just play the game.
"And don't take life for granted as well."
It's good advice for anyone, of course. Nets fans can only hope that Williams — who has averaged 6.5 points, three rebounds, 3.5 assists and 1.5 steals in 23.5 minutes of run in two games since coming back to New Jersey — heeds it from here on out, returns to the form he showed late in his rookie season and fulfills his considerable promise.
[Rewind: Ex-con's frank advice for Michael Vick]
And if anyone on Mikhail Prokhorov's payroll believes at all in karma, he or she would do well to hook young Mr. Gonzalez and his family up the next time the Nets visit the Boston Celtics (Wednesday, Feb. 16, according to my calendar) — I'm talking transportation back and forth on the two-hour trip from Springfield to Boston, floor seats, a chance to play "Transformers" with Brook Lopez(notes), the works. It'd be a good look to reward him for helping T-Will get his head back in the game.
Video courtesy of WWLP-TV in Springfield, Mass.
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