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Summary: Good guy, good family ;)


The life and times of Jay Williams
Those who know him best—his mother and father—say the potential Bulls top draft pick has made all the right decisions on his way to Wednesday's NBA draft.

By K.C. Johnson
Tribune staff reporter

June 22, 2002, 8:44 PM CDT

If there were days when Jay Williams questioned his choice to turn down NBA millions and return for his junior year at Duke, all he needed to do was place a call to his father, David.

Rather than a simple pep talk, something along the lines of "good things come to those who wait," David's rich family history could offer a more elaborate lesson.

In 1984, about 60 years after she became one of the first African-American women to vote in the state of Florida, Elizabeth Williams along with her husband, Paul, were honored by President Ronald Reagan as a "Great American Family." A 3-year-old Jay accompanied his grandparents and parents to the White House.

"The role models are there for him to be an upstanding citizen in the community," David said. If there were nights when Jay Williams regretted missing his chance to be the first overall pick as he stared at another paper to write, all he needed to do was place a call to his mother, Althea.

Rather than a sympathetic ear, perhaps the proverbial shoulder to cry on, Althea might have offered a stern rebuke and excused herself: She had a paper of her own to write.

In 2001, close to four years after she made a promise to herself, Althea received her second master's degree as she worked full-time as the assistant principal at North Plainfield (N.J.) High School.

"It was quite a joy to be writing a paper and staying up all night while he was writing a paper and staying up all night," Althea said. "The problem came in that I had to go to work. He looked at going to school and playing basketball as his job. I just didn't think his job was as demanding as mine."

Jay Williams never experienced such days and nights. Heeding the discipline his parents instilled in him, he made his decisions and never looked back.

He went on to sweep college basketball's player of the year awards and now is set to graduate from Duke in three years with a degree in sociology after he finishes a summer-school class on Tuesday.

The next day Commissioner David Stern will step to the podium and announce which team has made Jay one of the top selections in the NBA draft.

The basketball experts will gush about the shooting and leadership abilities a point guard such as Williams will bring to his new team, expected to be the Bulls, as well as his dazzling first step.

But there can be no quick first step without an actual first step, and David and Althea Williams remember their only child's well.

Theirs is a household filled with lessons and love, elements that give foundation to the seemingly sturdy career path on which Jay is prepared to embark.

"My family is great for me," Jay said. "My dad is more low-key and my mom is more outgoing. It's good because both of those transcend into a way to relate to people. The whole thing about being a leader is you have to know what pushes certain people. I feel I can do that."

Speaking to David and Althea Williams is an exercise in fun and familiarity. They tease each other. They laugh at each other's jokes. They finish each other's sentences.

When David says they met at Ohio State during "the Woody Hayes days," Althea chides him by adding, "Don't date me, dear." She also takes great relish in the fact she was born seven months later than him in 1950.

Or when Althea conveys her hope that the Bulls draft her son by proudly touting the Midwestern values she observed growing up in Elyria, Ohio, David interjects, "You need a magnifying glass to find it."

Clearly they are enjoying this time. Though occasionally stressful and full of unexpected commitments—both recently left jobs to oversee their son's newly created corporation—this step is just another on their life journey full of education and example.

David Williams grew up as one of nine brothers and sisters to Paul and Elizabeth Williams in Ft. Lauderdale. His father was pulled out of school to work on the family farm after the 6th grade but stressed education enough to his offspring that all nine have their college degrees.

Jay's grandparents were involved heavily in volunteer work and charitable organizations, another reason that Reagan honored them. Both have streets named for them in Ft. Lauderdale.

Althea lost her father at an early age and grew up watching her mother, Cathryn Bowman, raise two children on a high-school education.

"She often said she wanted me to have all the education I could have so that I could contribute to my family," Althea said. "I saw how hard she worked every day. That motivated me."

David and Althea were married Sept. 18, 1977. Jay was born Sept. 10, 1981, extremely small because he was premature.

But he quickly grew, as did his childhood athletic prowess. It's a cliché, of course, but David recognized an ability in his son immediately.

"In 4th grade he had determination to practice, practice, practice," David said. "We put up a basketball goal out back and had to make him come in at night because of the snow. In the 5th grade he took the coach's son's job at point guard."

Jay's childhood wasn't much different than many children's in that he tried many sports—karate, volleyball, soccer, baseball, tennis, swimming.

But his upbringing became unique when David and Althea brought Jackie Taylor into their home. Althea was working as a guidance counselor when Taylor became part of her caseload after Taylor lost her mother to cancer.

Suddenly Jay had a sister.

David and Althea never officially adopted Taylor, but they might as well have, putting her through school, having her live with them.

"They're mom and dad," saids Taylor, now 29 and working at a Plainfield day-care center.

Jay left Plainfield to go to the parochial school in nearby Metuchen. He played four years of varsity basketball at St. Joseph's, which he helped lead to two state-title games.

David and Althea worked full-time but rarely missed a game, even though David traveled internationally on an extensive basis as head of American Express' Management Information Systems department. Althea even started the first girls cheerleading squad at the all-boys school.

"They're a special family," said Mark Taylor, Jay's high school coach.

Never did that familial closeness shine through more than when Williams wrestled with turning pro last year.

"All we wanted him to remember is that if you kept the larger picture in mind, the short-term things will work themselves out," David says. "It was fun to help him think through the decision-making process and watch him learn from it. He gained more self-confidence in making decisions and taking a leadership role."

And now that Jay will be in the NBA, his new challenge has become his family's new challenge.

David and Althea are temporarily heading up Jay LLC, a corporation to handle Jay's endorsements and serve as the umbrella for Jay's legal, accounting and financial investment teams. The plan is for Jay eventually to help run it—another lesson taught by the parents to the pupil.

Althea also has plans to create a foundation that provides educational assistance for inner-city schoolchildren. David, who at 52 has taken early retirement, is content running the corporation.

"This is fun for me," he said.

Their lives have been full of accomplishment, but this one seems extra special.

"Jason likes to please, but he has this sense of discerning what people need and he tries to give it to them," David said. "We're very proud."

Althea chokes back tears.

"He can just take your heart," she said. "He's a for-real person. Jason is going to be Jason is going to be Jason. We're very proud."

David and Althea don't just finish each other's sentences. Sometimes, when speaking of their love for Jay, they use the same ones.

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Ugh. This is more syrup than I can take...and I love pancakes. WE HAVEN'T EVEN DRAFTED THE GUY, YET. :sour:
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