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CHICAGO — Before noon games, the Florida State men’s basketball team started its shootaround at 7 a.m. Most players approached this time casually, using it as a chance to wake up, get loose, stretch and run offensive sets five on zero.
It was during one of those mornings, early in the college basketball season, when Florida State forward Raiquan Grey first became impressed by Patrick Williams’ athleticism. With the rest of his teammates still sleepy-eyed, Williams finished one of those offensive sets emphatically, leaping off one foot and delivering a windmill dunk that caught the attention of everyone watching.
“He walked in the gym without stretching or doing anything and did a windmill easily as an 18-year-old,” Grey said during a phone interview last week. “I’ve never seen that. He definitely has freakish athleticism.
“And he just walks off the court, with no smile, no emotion, like it was a normal thing to do.”
That standout athleticism is part of what enticed the Chicago Bulls to make Williams the No. 4 pick in the NBA draft last week, a surprising selection even as his draft stock had surged for weeks.
Making sense of the Bulls’ decision to use the fourth pick on a player who never started for his college team requires a look beyond the numbers. Shifting their focus to the attributes Williams flashed during one season at Florida State changed everything for the Bulls.
“The more we studied Patrick, the more we liked him,” executive vice president Arturas Karnisovas said on draft night.
Williams, who officially signed his contract Saturday, stands out at 6-foot-8 and 225 pounds with an NBA-ready frame to match his 7-foot wingspan. He was the second-youngest player in the draft — he turned 19 in August — and the Bulls see it as a plus that he is physically ready.
However, Karnisovas disagreed with the perception that Williams is more raw athlete than skilled player at the moment. The Bulls saw a versatile defender who could defend guards in a full-court press in college.
Williams was a 6-2 point guard at the start of his high school career, which became a major asset after his growth spurt — and his college coach thinks he’s a better shooter than he has been given credit for.
“He shoots the ball. He dribbles the ball. He’s big and strong and fast, can switch and guard all five positions,” Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. “In the dictionary you see positionless basketball, his picture is right next to it. I just think he checks all the boxes.
“But you don’t know that until you watch film after film after film. And you evaluate him and you go down your sheet and see that he has the potential to be a guy who can contribute at a high level.”
Hamilton says he was not surprised to see Williams’ stock rise so quickly because he knew what he was capable of when he recruited him out of West Charlotte High School in Charlotte, N.C. He has made a point to recruit players at Florida State with skills that have become critical in the NBA: the ability to handle, shoot and pass on one end of the floor and switch and defend multiple positions on the other.
Because of how deep and talented Florida State’s roster was last season, the Seminoles did not require Williams to showcase all of those skills during his lone college season, but he accepted whatever role was asked of him. By all accounts, he embraced coming off the bench in each of his 29 games while the team went 26-5 and won the ACC regular-season championship before the season was suspended because of COVID-19 in March.
“It just taught me to do my part and do it well,” Williams said on draft night. “In the NBA it’s all about roles. Everybody can’t be a LeBron James from Day 1 or a Michael Jordan from Day 1. So you’ve got to kind of embrace your role and do your role well and then you’re trusted with more.”
Added Hamilton: “That says a lot about the confidence that he has that he’s doing whatever he needs for the team to be successful. He wasn’t pouting that he wasn’t starting because he was playing as many minutes as anybody else. … He was always in the game when the game was on the line.”
Those traits also encouraged the Bulls. They like that Williams was coachable and continued to improve as the season went on. Hamilton raved that Williams’ mindset and unselfishness were apparent from the moment he arrived on campus.
Grey said Williams’ personality was nonchalant and reserved, although he opened up more as he grew comfortable around his teammates.
“He don’t really smile much on the court or laugh on the court, but off the court, he’s a great guy to be around,” Grey said. “He’s kind of calm, cool and collected. He don’t want to show too much; he’ll catch himself sometimes. He doesn’t want to have too much fun.”
Although Williams has a bit of a reserved and understated approach, there’s also a quiet confidence that Hamilton says is one of his biggest strengths.
“He’s humble but he’s confident,” Hamilton said. “He’s coachable and he’s going to be a great teammate. He’s going to try to do whatever the coaches ask him to do. I mean, he’s going to be respectful but capable of going out and contributing. He has the right attitude coming into the door.”
It’s possible Williams might need some time to adjust to the NBA. This draft class enters the league without the benefit of summer league, and training camps are scheduled to begin about two weeks after draft night.
Williams had some guidance through the pre-draft process, getting advice and tips from Bulls guard Coby White even though they had no idea they would end up teammates. Aside from being the Bulls’ two most recent first-round draft picks, both are from North Carolina (White is from Goldsboro) and they became close after crossing paths often on the AAU scene in high school.
Even though they could be forgiven for trying to maintain expectations for Williams in his first season, everyone around him seems confident the NBA adjustment will come smoothly.
Hamilton has seen a number of his players make the jump to the NBA recently — including this year’s No. 11 pick, Devin Vassell — and he said he has “no doubt whatsoever” Williams will be ready. Karnisovas pointed to the huge growth he has seen from Williams in a short amount of time as reason not to worry about the adjustment.
And least worried of all seems to be Williams, who acknowledged he will need to make changes but showed no doubt he is ready to make the leap.
“I think any part can translate immediately,” Williams said about his game. “Of course there’s some adjustments to be done, but most of that adjustment is the mental aspect, things to look for, things to look at and things to be mindful of. As far as my game, I think everything will translate.”
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