Point guard to come off bench Tuesday
STORRS, Conn. -- Marcus Williams sat down for an interview Monday with ESPN, ready for the questions about his role in the sale of stolen laptops, the expected verbal insults that will be shouted his way beginning Tuesday night in Milwaukee and how he intends to mesh with the undefeated, No. 2-ranked Connecticut Huskies.
He didn't duck anything.
"I think more than half of them [the public] don't understand," Williams said of a perception that his penalty wasn't tough enough -- even after he completed a school-mandated semester-long ban from all official basketball-related activities. He also did 25 hours of community service on campus. The legal case netted him 18 months of probation and an additional 400 hours of community service.
"They just see the legal action and then they see what the school did, but they don't understand that I'm going to have to live with this the rest of my life and it's going to be rough," he said.
The Huskies play at Marquette in their Big East opener Tuesday at the Bradley Center. Williams is expecting to come off the bench behind his replacement, freshman Craig Austrie. Williams, who averaged a Big East-best 7.8 assists per game last season as a sophomore (third in the nation), was named the league's most improved player last season after playing only the first semester as a freshman because he was academically ineligible for the second semester. He was on the roster but was not involved with the title run in 2004.
When he walks onto the court Tuesday, Williams expects to be called all sorts of things, and he said he'll just laugh it off and block it out. So, too, will his father, Kelly, who will accompany the team to Milwaukee for the game.
"I'll just find humor in it and let people be people," Kelly Williams said.
Williams put himself into this position when he attempted to sell stolen laptop computers at area pawn shops last June. Teammate A.J. Price also was allegedly involved in the theft of the laptops. Price was suspended for the entire season and banished from campus for the first semester.
"I tried to sell the merchandise," Williams said. "I didn't take it. I wasn't in the dorms."
Why would he do this?
"I wasn't thinking," Williams said. "That was it right there. I wasn't thinking at all."
Williams said he realized he was in trouble when he returned the two laptops that were in his possession.
"I just tried to get out of the situation as fast as I could," Williams said.
Still, Williams went to Dallas in July to try out for the U-21 USA National team. He made the squad and went with the team to Argentina the first week of August.
He started off strong for Team USA, dishing out eight assists against China, scoring 17 points against Lithuania, and then notching six assists against Puerto Rico and 10 more against Nigeria. But then a phone call came, and Williams found out that Price was getting arrested. Williams had one assist against Slovenia and, in a stunning loss to Canada in the quarterfinals, Williams failed to dish out an assist.
Williams said he was told he would be arrested upon returning to the United States.
"After I found that out, I didn't really care anymore," Williams said. "I didn't want to play no more. I just wanted to go home and get it over with, so I wasn't thinking about basketball anymore."
Williams' return route was redirected from a Dallas-to-Los Angeles flight to one to Hartford.
"I have never been in a situation like that, so it was kind of scary," Williams said of being arrested.
What was his worst fear?
"Me playing," Williams said. "I didn't think I was going to play in a game, here at least."
Williams made his case in front of a university code of conduct board. He said he showed remorse and said he promised his mother, Michele (who moved in with him in Storrs), that he would graduate.
"I've never done anything like this," Williams said.
A Los Angeles native, Williams said the punishment of missing a game in his hometown area (when the Huskies played at Pepperdine) along with the team's trip to the Maui Invitational -- and his having to work out on his own at a local high school -- was fair. He said he ended up having a strong semester, earning a 2.8 grade point average because he was able to focus on his academics.
In an odd way, Williams' suspension probably has helped the team. Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun went with Austrie and fellow freshman Rob Garrison at the point, so now, with Williams back, the Huskies have three ballhandlers to rotate into the lineup. That could allow the Huskies to press more often and certainly will help whenever anyone is in foul trouble.
"I think I can be a quick spark, and on offense I can find the open guys when we push the break," Williams said. "I can be a spark on defense, too.
"I think by [my] messing up, Craig [now] has experience," Williams said. "It kind of helped the team in the wildest way."
Williams said the pressure is off of him since the Huskies are undefeated. Had they been entering the Big East with a few losses, there could have been higher expectations upon his arrival. Now he can blend in with the team without the expectation that he has to star right away. He said he's in college basketball shape, but not Calhoun shape. And what is that? That is someone who can run for hours end to end.
"Whatever coach wants me to do, I'll do," said Williams, who really doesn't have any bargaining power. He said he would review his options in the offseason. And his father did say that the Huskies have recruited under the assumption that he won't be here next season. Still, Williams said he's indebted to the Huskies for giving him a second chance.
Should he start?
"That's coach's decision," Williams said. "In my opinion, I don't think so. Craig's doing a great job and the team is 11-0, No. 2 in the country, so just stick with whatever's working."
But don't be surprised to see Williams in the lineup shortly after tip-off Tuesday. And whatever is said to him, whatever sign is held up berating him, he's prepared to take the heat.
"He's handling it better than I expected," Kelly Williams said. "He's not trying to point the finger. He did what he did and he's facing whatever comes with it. He's answered every question, and he hasn't gone anywhere. He hasn't dodged anything."
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com
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