When I interviewed Shawne Williams shortly before his freshman season — the only one he would play — with the Tigers, I was struck by how easily he smiled. The afternoon we chatted at the Finch Center (following a Tiger practice) Williams was adorned in jewelry, a white New York Yankees hat a size too big, and blue jeans that he couldn't quite fill. Whether or not this is an "urban" look, it's certainly the look of youth. And combined with that smile, Williams came across as younger than any college freshman I've met, before or since.
Having been traded by the Dallas Mavericks and waived by the New Jersey Nets, the worst week of Williams' life officially bottomed out today when he turned himself in to Shelby County authorities after being indicted Tuesday on various drug-related charges. One of more than 24 defendants in the Memphis Police Department's "Operation: Lockdown," Williams has jail time ahead, it would appear.
How quickly Williams fell. Part of the finest freshman class Memphis has seen in years (if not ever), Williams was the 2006 Conference USA Freshman of the Year (an honor he earned over teammates Chris Douglas-Roberts, Antonio Anderson, and Robert Dozier). He was named MVP of the 2006 C-USA tournament at FedExForum, and was integral to the Tigers' 33-4 season and a trip to the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. Blessed with an ability to shoot in traffic, run the floor, and defend big guards and small forwards, Williams had a little Scottie Pippen in him. Only with a smile — and wardrobe — that made him seem much, much younger. He was selected by the Indiana Pacers with the 17th pick in the 2006 NBA draft. Larry Bird saw something in Williams, too.
Now? Like the previous paragraph, Williams' basketball career will be spoken of in the past tense, with him still well shy of his 30th birthday. The hope, of course, must be for redemption, that Williams can find a way to eliminate the influences that have interrupted his professional basketball career. That he might find his way back to the NBA, a journey that has been shown to be challenging for other star Tiger freshmen recruited by former coach John Calipari. (Derrick Rose and Tyreke Evans are on their way to fame, but where are you, Dajuan Wagner, Sean Banks, Darius Washingon?)
Williams was a Tiger basketball fan before he ever suited up at FedExForum. His favorite player as a child was Mingo Johnson, the three-point artist from the mid-Nineties. Williams liked the way a three-pointer always brought the crowd to its feet, "raised the roof." Williams, as it turned out, had more talent than Johnson on his finest day. And he brought Tiger fans to their feet aplenty.
Sad to see his mug shot today. He looks considerably older than I remember.