Last night, Sean Williams, the 17th pick in the 2007 NBA draft, played in his fifth game. It may have been his best yet - not bad for someone who already was ahead of schedule, at least the one the Nets calibrated for him, which may say a lot about the team and the player.
The former Boston College center played a season-high 29 minutes. He had a season-high 14 points, a season-high four blocked shots (including one on Rajon Rondo that had "SportsCenter" written all over it). He collected seven rebounds, one shy of his season high. He also had a steal.
"Just trying to play hard and do my job," Williams said following New Jersey's 91-69 loss to the Celtics. "Coach [Lawrence Frank] told me I'd be in the rotation for now and I am going to try and take advantage of the opportunity."
"He plays with amazing energy," saluted Celtics coach Doc Rivers. "His athleticism is scary."
Nights like last night, and Monday (6 points, 4 blocks, 8 rebounds in 19 minutes), have a way of advancing what the Nets figured would be a steep learning curve.
Said Frank after the game, "There's no doubt that Sean played very well. You can see that. He has a chance to be a very good player."
No one needs to make a case for Williams around here. We saw enough of him at BC to be intrigued and, occasionally, enthralled, by what he could do at the defensive end. In his last game at BC, he had 10 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 blocks in 23 minutes. He had a game in which he blocked 13 shots and another when he rejected 12. BC has never had a player like him and his dismissal from the team in January for repeated rules violations could well have cost the Eagles a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.
That's all behind him now, as one would hope and expect. Williams said he had about 10 tickets to hand out last night in his first visit to Boston since joining the Nets, a few for BC football players. He said more will be available the next time, insinuating that he will be more confident and comfortable in his new gig.
But he's already opening eyes in New Jersey.
"He brings a lot to the table defensively," said Jason Kidd, the Nets' leader, at yesterday's shootaround. "He can change shots. He can block shots. And he rebounds. He can also play above the rim, so he can be a presence. The big thing is, he's learning. He's learning on the go and he's picking things up pretty fast."
The Nets figured they had a worthwhile project in the making with Williams, who most everyone conceded would have gone a lot higher than 17th had it not been for his problems at BC. His former coach, Al Skinner, said had Williams finished the year at BC, he would have been a top-six pick. Williams has apologized for letting his former teammates down, but he wants to move on.
"I'm going to try and stay on the same road I'm on now and stay focused," he said. "I have high expectations for myself. I might surprise some people [with his play], but not me."
Williams certainly surprised some people early on - in the wrong way. Frank, in talking about Williams's ascent, makes the comparison to what the kid did in Orlando, Fla., at the Pepsi Summer League. His first game resulted in 2 points, 1 rebound, 3 blocks, 8 fouls, and 4 turnovers in 22 1/2 minutes. (Players can have more than six fouls in Summer League.) He played much better at the end of the five-game stretch, finishing with 17 points and three blocks in his last game. But he was foul-prone throughout (32 in the five games) and blocked only one shot a game.
"I thought I played well in Summer League, I'm sorry," Williams said. "I heard a lot of people say, 'He wasn't ready.' But I thought I played well, that I got better every day. It was an adjustment for me. It was my first time in the system, with the coaches. I'm feeling them out. They're feeling me out. So, for first-year players, it's a big adjustment. You can't take too much out of it besides watching what kind of skills a player has."
The Nets have brought Williams along slowly; his 29 minutes were eight minutes more than his previous high. He did not play in the season opener against the Bulls and was held out of recent wins over the 76ers and Hawks. He blocked four shots in 21 minutes in his debut Nov. 2, the Nets' dreadful 106-69 loss at home to Toronto. He resurfaced a week ago with a three-minute cameo against the Wizards (2 points in an 87-85 win) and has been moving up in the rotation since. He was the first man off the bench last night.
"Sean has made big gains but, obviously, he still has a long way to go," Frank said. "But he's got himself in a position now where he's going to be in the game. Now, the key for any player is, 'Can you do it on a consistent basis?' You can only tell if you throw the guy out there, and that's what we plan to do."
Peter May can be reached at email@example.com.