Today, he’s one of the best young basketball analysts on television. But not too long ago, Jay Williams took the college game by the throat with some fierce offensive weaponry.
A native of Plainfied, New Jersey, Jay was one of the nation’s top recruits coming out of St. Joseph High School in Metuchen. He scored 20 points in the prestigious McDonald’s All-American game and immediately stepped into Duke University’s starting lineup during the 1999-2000 season.
As a freshman, he averaged 15 points, seven assists and four rebounds per game en route to being named the ACC Rookie of the Year and the National Freshman of the Year by Sporting News.
Over the summer, he raised serious eyebrows when, as a member of Team USA’s select squad, he put together a string of dominating performances during scrimmages against the 2000 Olympic Team and their guard contingent of Gary Payton, Ray Allen, Jason Kidd, Allan Houston, Tim Hardaway and Steve Smith.
Back at Duke for his sophomore year, playing with Shane Battier, Mike Dunleavy Jr., Chris Duhon and Carlos Boozer, Jay got busier than a horny rabbit.
Playing fewer minutes than he did as a freshman, he scorched for 22 points and six assists per game while converting 43% of his three-point attempts. In addition, he became the first Duke player since Danny Ferry to lead the ACC in scoring. During the tournament, Jay led all scorers with an average of 26 points.
He led the Blue Devils to the 2001 National Championship over Richard Jefferson, Luke Walton, Gilbert Arenas and their University of Arizona team, 82-72.
But the road to that title wasn’t paved in gold.
In the Final Four against their former conference rival, the University of Maryland, the Blue Devils actually trailed by 22 points in the first half. The guard matchup between Maryland’s Juan Dixon and Williams throughout the season was delectable, and they proceeded to put on another dazzling show in Minneapolis. Jay walked into the Final Four averaging 28.8 points in the tournament.
Juan scored 16 points in the first half, but Duke proceeded to claw their way back from the biggest deficit they faced all year and eventually defeated the Terps, 95-84, sending Coach K to his seventh national championship game.
“This team has a lot of heart," Krzyzewski said after the semi-final victory against Maryland. “It's the youngest team, so we're prone to getting nervous. But one of the biggest hearts I've coached is Jason Williams, and he carried us on his back.”
Jay scored 23 points, including the crucial three-pointer that stamped Duke’s comeback with 6:52 left in the game, giving them a 73-72 lead.
“I just thought we needed a sense of urgency,” Williams later said, referring to his play in the second half. “I thought that was the main thing for us. Take it in steps. We weren't going to get it back in one shot. We did a good job doing that."
As a junior in 2001-2002, he swept every major award, winning the A.P., Naismith, Oscar Robertson and Wooden trophies, while being unanimously named college basketball’s Player of the Year.
Also a stud in the classroom, Jay earned his sociology degree in three years. His jersey #22 was retired at the completion of his junior season. With nothing left to prove on the college level, he declared for the 2002 NBA Draft and was selected with the #2 overall pick by the Chicago Bulls, behind Yao Ming.
Unfortunately, his NBA career was halted by the horrific motorcycle accident in June of 2003. Crashing into a pole at an intersection, Jay severed a major nerve in his leg, fractured his pelvis and tore three knee ligaments, including the ACL. To regain the use of his leg, he underwent extensive therapy and rehab. And yet, although the end of his pro career was unceremonious, we are still left with his college resume.
Alot of people remember his work against Maryland over his career, along with the second half of that Final Four against the Terps. But I'll always flashback to the Sweet Sixteen in that 2001 tourney, when he blazed for 34 points against UCLA, including the diabolical 17 straight in the second half of Duke's 76-63 victory.
So for you folks who think that Jay is just that smooth, smart dude on ESPN that knows his college hoops, think again. He is somebody else entirely.
When it comes to college point guards and Tourney Titans, Jay Williams was one of the best to ever do it.