Utah Jazz player Marvin Williams walks into a classroom at the University of North Carolina and every head looks up.
“It’s the same questions: What are you doing here; why are you here,” said the 26-year-old small forward whom the Jazz traded for earlier this month.
“I ask them the same question: Why are you here? You’re trying to get your degree just like I am.”
Williams, who helped the Tar Heels win the 2005 NCAA men’s basketball championship, declared for the NBA draft after his freshman season. But unlike many so-called one-and-done players, he has a bigger picture in mind.
Since being drafted by the Atlanta Hawks with the No. 2 overall pick in the 2005 draft, he has been returning to Chapel Hill, N.C. to pursue his degree in sociology.
He’s not exactly on the four-year plan — or even the five-year plan, for that matter — but then again taking a few credit hours each summer is a time-consuming process.
“I’ve been going back since I left,” he said. “I’m hoping I only have two or three more summers before I’m finished.”
Williams is one of three new players Jazz general manager Kevin O’Connor has landed so far this summer. He traded for veteran point guard Mo Williams on draft night, then sent Devin Harris to the Hawks for Marvin Williams a few days later.
Last week the team also signed veteran combo guard Randy Foye as a free agent.
Looking ahead to next season, all three figure to play a key role in the further development of the post-Deron Williams era Jazz.
Where once it appeared O’Connor was trying to create a “Big 3” type scenario with All-Star point guard Deron Williams, center Al Jefferson and fill-in-the-blank, there seems to be a different model afoot.
Now with more depth and less star power, it appears the Jazz want to become greater than the sum of their parts.
In that regard, Marvin Williams seems like a good fit.
Although he has never lived up to his potential as the No. 2 overall pick, he’s been playing in Atlanta for the past seven seasons. Yes, the Hawks have been a solid, playoff caliber team in the Eastern Conference, but Williams is a Washington state native who certainly could benefit from a change of scenery.
A change of address, a chance to recharge his career and an opportunity to play in front of a full arena can only help Williams going forward.
“I’m definitely excited to be back out West,” he said. “My family is from the Seattle area, so they’ll be a little closer to me.”
I’m guessing Jazz fans have changed their perceptions already and he’ll soon become a favorite at EnergySolutions Arena.
After all, they may have seen him as another one-and-done punk churned out from a college basketball factory. But he said there’s more to him than that.
Williams said he never promised anyone he’d get his degree, nor was that a strong point of emphasis when he left his home in Bremerton, Wash., for UNC.
His goal was always to play in the NBA, something he’s been doing for the past seven seasons.
But he developed a strong bond with Tar Heels coach Roy Williams and felt getting a degree would not only be a personal benefit, it would be a way of saying thank you to his former coach.
“What he’s meant to me personally, I can’t put into words,” Marvin said. “I’ve never had another person outside of my family care about me as much as coach Williams has. I can never thank him for the things he’s done for me.”
There’s no doubt Roy Williams is proud of his former player and appreciative of his efforts to finish what he started, regardless of how long it takes or how many heads he turns while walking around campus.