In March of 2010, Reggie Williams became an NBA player as one of 27 D-League call-ups that season. For Williams, the route to the NBA was filled with detours and doubt making the NBA debut more rewarding.
I recently caught up with Williams to discuss his unique road map to the NBA as he prepares for his fourth season.
Williams began his route to the NBA as a five-year-old when he picked up his first basketball with the encouragement of his dad (Reggie Williams Sr.) and older brother (Eric Ferguson).
By age 13, Williams took the game seriously and tried to emulate his game after bigger ball-handlers like Jalen Rose and Penny Hardaway.
“In high school I was the tallest guy so I had to play center on defense and then on offense I played point guard," said Williams. "Jalen Rose was a lefty like me so I admired his game a lot, especially his turnaround jump shot in the post."
Heading into his senior season at Prince George High School, Williams encountered his first detour. Williams didn’t play AAU ball over the summer and his development stalled during his senior season.
After finishing his high school career, Williams failed to receive any Division-I offers until late in the signing period. Virginia Military Institute and former coach Bart Bellairs offered Williams a basketball scholarship, which he immediately accepted.
Longwood, Western Michigan and Akron called Williams shortly thereafter.
Despite the overall lack of interest, Williams kept a positive attitude and remained confident his road would lead to the NBA.
“Before I signed with VMI, I told them, because I knew VMI wasn’t a big school, my goal was to make it to the NBA. I told them you could make the NBA from anywhere and they said, ‘Yeah, just be a big fish in a small pond,’” said Williams.
At the time, only Ron Carter had made it to the NBA from VMI, but Williams was determined to be the second player to do so.
Bellairs immediately gave Williams an opportunity to start, play major minutes, and gain confidence early in his freshman season.
Once Williams became an upperclassman, his stock began to rise nationally.
“Things really started coming to light in my junior year when I led the NCAA in scoring," said Williams. "I realized I had a real opportunity to play (in the NBA). My junior year the new coach, Duggar Baucom, implemented a fast paced offense and from there I kind of made a name for myself."
Williams thrived in the new offensive system under Baucom and led the NCAA in scoring two straight seasons, averaging 28 points both seasons and nearly nine rebounds.
However, despite his individual success as a scorer in back-to-back seasons, Williams went undrafted.
This was another detour on the road to the NBA for Williams, who began to doubt his ability to realistically reach the NBA for the first time.
“Oh definitely, not being drafted," said Williams. "I was told by a team they were going to draft me if I was still there in the second round. That didn’t happen, I didn’t get drafted and playing in Summer League I didn’t get much playing time, which was tough."
After failing to get drafted and make a mark in the NBA Summer League, the road to the NBA for Williams seemed more daunting than ever.
Williams signed overseas with Dijon Bourgogne (France) for one season, where he averaged 12.5 points, five rebounds, and his shooting percentages declined across the board.
“Going over to Europe, I had a decent season, but it wasn’t what I hoped for. You worry and wonder what’s the next step,” said Williams.
Despite a decline on the court overseas compared to his lofty totals in his final two college seasons, Williams’ basketball IQ grew immensely.
“In France I learned how to play professional basketball because at VMI we played up and down where we pressed and there wasn’t much man-to-man defense or set plays. Going to France taught me basketball as far as pick-and-rolls, help side defense, how to execute plays, and made me remember the intricacy of plays. It was great because I learned the game of basketball,” said Williams.
After a year in France, with a better feel for the game to pair with his scoring talent, Williams returned to the United States and hired Ronald Shade to be his agent.
Shade renewed confidence in Williams and told him that he would get a call-up if he played in the D-League.
Shade’s vision for Williams became a reality as the Golden State Warriors called him up on March 2, 2010.
“In the D-League, seeing guys called up before me when I was leading the D-League in scoring was discouraging, but I got the opportunity from Golden State and their organization, which was great and I appreciated that from them,” said Williams.
After barely receiving a Division-I scholarship, going undrafted despite leading the NCAA in scoring two seasons, and playing a year overseas, Williams reached his NBA destination with a 10-day contract to prove he belonged for good.
Williams described the phone call he waited for since he was a five-year-old.
“It’s a funny story because me and my roommate at the time were in Iowa. My roommate Leemire Goldwire was telling me, ‘I think you’re going to get called up, I feel it.’ Then my coach Tony Fritz called. He asked me if I like playing for Sioux Falls and I said, ‘Yeah, am I being traded?’ He said he got a phone call from Golden State and you’re going to meet them in Miami. I ran around the hotel and hugged him (Goldwire),” said Williams.
Meanwhile, back at home, Williams’ brother knew the secret to a call-up all along.
“The funny thing is my brother told me that if I shaved my beard at the time I’d get called up. I cut it, and it was ironic, but I got called up,” said Williams.
The Warriors gave Williams a 10-day chance of a lifetime to make an impression on the team and earn playing time. Up to this point, these were the most important 10 days of his life, but his calm demeanor helped him thrive.
“My mindset was I had nothing to loose," said Williams. "My goal was just to play. I’m getting an opportunity to do what I love and play at the highest level. The worst case scenario was if they didn’t keep me I’d just go back to Sioux Falls and I had a few offers overseas at that time."
When his 10-day contract expired, Williams signed a second 10-day contract before signing for the remainder of the season with the Warriors.
In the 24 games Williams played with the Warriors, he showed flashes of the scoring ability that made him a back-to-back NCAA scoring leader. Williams flourished in the Warriors up-tempo system, similar to his VMI days, and averaged 15.2 points on 50-percent shooting.
Williams was retained the following season with Golden State as a bench player, playing in 80 games averaging nine points.
However, Williams was let go after that season as the Warriors rescinded a restricted offer sheet to him during negotiations for DeAndre Jordan following the NBA lockout.
“It kind of upset me because I really liked Golden State and the Bay Area, but I understood it was a business,” said Williams.
Williams had signed with Caja Laboral (Spain) during that previous August to stay in shape during the lockout. Williams returned to the NBA when he signed with the Charlotte Bobcats for two-years, $5 million.
Williams missed most of last season with a knee injury, as the Bobcats went on to have the worst winning percentage in NBA history.
With no place to go but up Williams is confident the Bobcats can improve this season under new coach Mike Dunlap as he assumes a larger role upon return from injury.
“I think this year with the pieces we have, the coaching staff, and the returning guys this season will be different," said Williams. "I’d love to be a part of the growth of the Charlotte Bobcats. We had a tough season last year so I’d love the opportunity to redeem that and I like Charlotte the city, the fans, my teammates, and I would love to be a part of the growth of this team."
This is the final year of his two-year deal with the Bobcats and Williams is ready to continue his NBA journey.
“I didn’t take the usual path that most guys take," said Williams. "It was a different journey, but I think everything happens for a reason. I’m blessed and I’m just trying to take advantage of the opportunity I’ve been given and play basketball as long as I can. It’s been amazing. I wouldn’t trade any moment that happened for anything. It makes me appreciate it more and more."
The road map Williams used to make the NBA shows us it’s not always about the destination, but the journey that can be the most rewarding part of any trip.