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Monday, June 24, 2002
Updated: July 8, 5:16 PM ET
Jay Williams

Special to Page 2

You can call him Jay. Or you can call him Jason. Or you can call him a two-time All-American, a one-time national champion and college basketball's consensus player of the year for 2001-02.

Either way, it's a sure bet that Duke point guard Jay Williams will hear his name called in the first couple of picks at the NBA draft on Wednesday night. Before Williams starts fidgeting in the green room, he faced the heat of 10 Burning Questions from Page 2's Eric Neel.

Jason Williams
Jay Williams was the floor leader who carried Duke to the 2001 national title.
1. Page 2: You're nominated for a 2002 ESPY Award as the best collegiate male athlete of the year. You're going up against Eric Crouch, Shane Battier, Juan Dixon and Cale Sanderson. Who do you figure is the favorite in the category?

Jay Williams: Shane Battier. He's a lock.

When you meet other famous athletes at the ESPYs, do you feel like a fan or do you feel like a peer now?

You know, the weird thing about that whole thing -- of course, you're excited to meet people and stuff -- but the thing about it is they're just people like us, you know? They have the same problems, the same issues. At the same time, it's a great opportunity to meet people and say hello. It's gonna be a moment that you're not going to forget.

Are you planning to take a camera to the ESPYs?

Williams: I don't know if I will, but I'm sure my mother will.

Is she your date that night?

Williams: Yeah, both my mother and my father will be there. I don't know if I'm into the whole date thing -- a lot of people do that there, though, huh?

Yeah, folks get all dressed up, do the whole thing.

Williams: Well, I'm going to be dressed up, but I might go by myself.

After the ESPY Award, should you win one, what award would you say has been the most important to you?

Williams: The John R. Wooden Award, definitely. He represents everything I stand for. Being respectful, hard work, commitment, that's what it takes to win, not just on the basketball court but off the court as well.

Did you get a chance to meet him when you won that award?

Williams: Yeah, I got to sit down with him and we had a two-hour long dinner. It was great. Just to sit down next to someone with that much knowledge and wisdom about the game, just to talk to him about basketball, was just a great thing in itself.

2. You've said that it was important to you to finish your degree at Duke before you declared yourself eligible for the NBA draft. Can you talk about what that meant to you?

Jason Williams
The Bulls want to clear up any confusion surrounding their new point guard.
Williams: It meant a lot. It's something that nobody's ever going to be able to take away from me. Right now, you know, I have a lot of money in my face, but finishing the degree -- that was the best thing for me, that's who I am. I felt if I'd left last year -- I didn't feel it was in my character to leave.

Education is something I've always valued, and that my parents have always valued, and completing the degree, that was just a natural step for me. It's about growing up, and that was a big step for me in growing up.

Is it daunting to, as you say, "have a lot of money in your face"?

Williams: Well, the money's not gotten here yet, let me be clear about that!

Yeah, but it's hanging out there somewhere close by.

Williams: Yeah, the potential, it's out there. You know, it's a real exciting experience. It makes you excited about what you do and makes you realize how blessed you are to do it.

3. You're a New Jersey native, right? Were you a Nets fan when they were in the Finals?

Williams: I'm not gonna be like everyone else and jump on the bandwagon. Throughout my whole life, it's weird, I've never really been a fan of any team. Not the Bulls, not anybody. The only one I was a fan of in the NBA was Isiah Thomas. I loved Michael Jordan -- he's one of the best players ever -- but it's not like I sat there and watched every Michael Jordan game. I was a really big fan of Isiah though, you know, just the way he fought.

Did you follow the playoffs? Do you like to watch the pro game?

Williams: Oh yeah, I love it. I think it's a great game. I think what Mike Bibby did against the Lakers was great -- he's always gonna be remembered for that.

Sitting where you are now, before the draft, can you picture yourself playing against guys like Bibby? Is it something you feel ready for?

Williams: Are you serious? Of course. I can't wait, man. It's what I waited my whole life for. When I get on the court next year -- they're all really good, I know that -- but I'm just gonna do what I can do. I just look forward to playing them.

I've got the chance to play basketball for money. I would have played even if I didn't make the NBA, but my job is going to be something I love to do. How many people actually get the chance to say that?

4. You said last year about this time that there were things you needed to work on, basketball-wise and growing-up-wise. By staying in school, do you feel like you got the chance to work on those things?

Williams: Yeah, you know, it's just things like living by myself, paying bills, taking care of my responsibilities -- I never did that before. As far as the game goes, it was just leading a team. I'd done it in different ways, but I'd never had the chance to do it the way I did this year. For me, it was also about being a kid for another year. Now, it's not the time to grow up totally -- you can still have fun here and there -- but now it's kind of different, you're in a different light, you're watched every second.

What would you say are the strengths and weaknesses of your game right now?

Mike Krzyzewski
Williams says he knows that Coach K "always had my back."
Williams: The way my game has always been, I try to work on, I try to improve on everything. I guess if there was one weakness in my game, it's probably my lefty hook shot, my lefty floater around the rim.

There's some concern among scouts about your free-throw shooting. Are you concerned at all?

Williams: No. My free throws are fine. Just because I didn't have one of the best years shooting the ball -- it doesn't bother me. All it is is a mental game.

5. What was your relationship with Coach K like?

Williams: It was a great relationship. He always had my back, he was always there for me. It's kind of sad that it's all over with, but he's always gonna be there for me, and I'm always gonna be there for him.

What's the most important thing he taught you?

Williams: Like John Wooden, he really taught me about hard work and commitment. You might not always come out on top, but you're going to know that you gave it your all.

 Jason Williams
Williams says he has moved on from Duke's difficult loss to Indiana in the NCAA Tournament.
The way it ended for you guys this year, with that loss in the tournament to Indiana, does that stay with you at all now or have you moved past it?

Williams: It doesn't stay with me. I mean, basketball is a game where you win and you lose. What are you gonna do about it? I'm not going to stop playing basketball because I missed one shot.

6. Who do you hope you'll be drafted by?

Williams: I'm not going to say. I don't want to jinx anything. So, I'll say, I don't really have a team I hope to get drafted by.

What position do you expect to play in the pros?

How do you think the pro game will be different than the college game?

Williams: Guys in the pros are so much bigger. I was looking at Shaq the other day, and I was thinking, "Oh my goodness." Look, if he's coming down the lane and I have a chance to take a charge, I'm going to move out of the way. That's just how I look at it. I'm looking at guys like Kevin Ollie -- I look at him on TV and I think he has to be like 5-foot-8 and then I stood next to him the other day -- we were playing golf -- and he's like 6-3, and I think, "Oh my God." I wonder how I'm gonna look, and I'm like scared to see myself on TV.

7. As someone who took school seriously, do you have a favorite book?

Shaquille O'Neal
If Shaq comes barreling down the lane, don't expect Williams to step in front of the Diesel.
Williams: Yeah, the biography of Jackie Robinson by Arnold Rampersand. It's one of the most inspiring books I've ever read. It's been great for me to read about the struggles he went through. I look at my life and think, "Wow," my struggles, whatever they are, don't even compare.

8. There's a lot of attention being paid to you right now, and a lot of pressure. What do you do when you want to get away from everything?

Williams: I play basketball. It's my safe haven. You're free-minded and you're doing what you love.

How would you describe your style?

Williams: I like to get the ball out and run. I'm like the guy who wants to lead the army into a war. I'll be the first guy, the guy to go full out. Everybody always says, "Don't get too used to winning, because when you get to the NBA you're gonna lose a lot of games" and I'm just like, you know, I just take that as a challenge. When I go to whatever team I'm gonna go to, I look forward to proving all those people wrong. Look at what Jason Kidd did for the Nets this year.

9. What went through your mind when you decided recently that you wanted to change your name from Jason to Jay?

Williams: Actually, I didn't even make a decision yet, and then all of a sudden everybody started calling me "Jay." It was weird, throughout my whole life all my friends have called me "Jay" and everybody at school calls me "Jay," and my Mom and ad call me "Jay." Of course, my name's "Jason," but you know, we didn't go out and make a name change, you know, with the government or anything like that. We started using it as an option, and all of a sudden, the next day it was in the paper. It's normal to me, when people say, "Jay," I turn around. The only time I hear "Jason" is when I'm in trouble, you know, with my mom and dad. I hear "Jason" and I think, "Oh man, what did I do?!"

10. You said your parents will be coming with you to the ESPY Awards. Will they accompany you to the draft, too?

Williams: Of course. My mother and father have played such important roles in my life. I owe them everything. They're definitely going to there with me, because these are big moments in my life.

The key question about the draft, of course, is, do you have your suit picked out yet?

Williams: Yeah, I've got it.

I heard a rumor you might be wearing a tux.

Williams: I'm not saying. It's a secret. I'll be there draft night.