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Williams hopes long road of recovery ends with NBA return
By DAN GELSTON, AP Sports Writer
Jun 16, 2006 - 4:20:00 PM

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) -- Jay Williams remembers the freedom and the rush he felt taking his red-and-black Yamaha R6 on the open road, darting through traffic like he was leading a fast break, without a care and without a helmet.

And without thinking of the worst-case consequences.

It was the same indestructible feeling Ben Roethlisberger likely felt when he defied the Pittsburgh Steelers' wishes that he not ride his motorcycle, or at least wear a helmet if he did.

When Williams saw the harrowing scene of Roethlisberger's accident on television Monday, he flashed back to the worst day of his life -- when he nearly died in a similar crash.

The crumpled motorcycle. The pool of blood. A career in jeopardy. It all seemed so familiar to the former Duke standout.

"It kind of brought the memories back for me," Williams said Friday. "I wish Ben the best of luck. I know he'll recover because I recovered."

But it's been a slow recovery for Williams, attempting a basketball comeback three years after the life-threatening motorcycle accident that fractured his pelvis, tore three of the four main ligaments in his left knee and severed a main nerve in his leg.

Williams was in a hospital for 3 1/2 months and hasn't played since his rookie year in 2002-03 when he averaged 9.5 points with the Chicago Bulls. Roethlisberger, the Pittsburgh Steelers' star quarterback, was out of the hospital two days after his accident with facial injuries that aren't expected to affect his career.

Williams hopes his long road to recovery will end with his return to the NBA this season. He's been working out with a handful of teams, including the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday, to show he's healthy and capable of handling the rigors of a grueling season.

"I'm definitely confident I'm going to play somewhere," said Williams, who sprained his right ankle during a drill Friday. "Somebody's going to give me the opportunity, somebody's going to believe in me. I guarantee you if they believe in me they're going to have a soldier on their team because I'm a fighter."

Still only 24, Williams no longer has the speed, mobility and explosiveness that made him the No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. Williams says he's now a smarter, more unselfish player who can still shoot and fill a role off the bench.

"I think he's back," said Sixers president Billy King, also a former Duke standout. "I'm not saying he's back to the point of when he was drafted, but I think he's back to the level that I think he can play in this league."

Williams, who settled on a nearly $3 million buyout with the Bulls, already has worked out for Toronto and has visits scheduled with New Jersey, Memphis and Phoenix. He's been training nearly every day for the past 2 1/2 years.

"I think he'll play harder and play smarter," Sixers coach Maurice Cheeks said.

It's not the career Williams envisioned, but he'll take it after nearly losing his life.

On June 19, 2003, Williams crashed his recently bought motorcycle into a light pole in Chicago. The accident left him unable to move his left leg and immobilized for eight weeks.

Williams went from dunking on Yao Ming to being told he would need to walk with crutches for the rest of his life. While he's battled daily physical and mental insecurities, Williams said the accident taught him not to take life for granted.

"You take your family for granted, you take fans for granted," he said. "You're caught up in the moment, caught up in playing time, how many points did I score, my contract's coming up, what does the coach think."

Now he takes life a day at a time. He dabbled in broadcasting for ESPN and has grown closer to his family and friends.

"For me, the accident was the best thing that could have happened to me," he said. "My pride and my joy is my family."

Even with a standard NBA contract clause that prohibits players from engaging in dangerous activities such as riding motorcycles, Williams ignored the risks because he felt nothing could happen to him.

"We're used to doing what we want to do," he said. "When someone tells you you can't do something, you always have that competitiveness that says, 'Well I can do whatever I want, whatever I put my mind to."'

Now Williams cringes whenever he sees a motorcyclist, especially one without a helmet. Williams said he recently witnessed a fatal motorcycle accident on Interstate 405 in California not far from his Hollywood Hills home. Williams ran over to the man, who was dead by the time he arrived.

"He flew about 200 feet from his bike," he said. "It was very difficult. All I saw was me."

But the two-time All-American and 2002 Associated Press College Player of the Year who led Duke to a national title as a sophomore is alive and grateful for a second chance at life and basketball.

"That time could have been taken away from me forever," Williams said. "I could have died at 22. Here I am, a guy who everyone thought my never walk again is here playing basketball."

Oh, and there's one more change in his life -- no more motorcycles.

"I like trucks," Williams said, smiling. "I like things with a lot of metal around it. It kind of makes you feel a little safer."

Copyright 2007 - MOP Squad Sports

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