Terrence Williams is different. He gets that. He would rather pass than shoot, would rather pass than score, would rather pass than do anything else on a basketball court.
Though a product of the AAU system that is reviled by NBA coaches for cultivating excessive one-on-one, attack-the-rim play, the Seattle native counts to five as in five players in the lineup and doesn't forget that the game is played with one ball.
"On every team, whether you're little or big, the mindset is to score," Williams said. "But that isn't me. I always wanted to be Magic (Johnson)."
What he wants more than anything is to secure longtime employment, preferably with the Kings. After he was picked up off waivers March 21 and signed for the rest of the season, his audition is entering its final, potentially pivotal days. In his third NBA season, Williams is attempting to distinguish himself from a crowd of swingmen that includes veterans John Salmons, Francisco Garcia, Tyreke Evans and Donté Greene.
His closing act could very well affect two things: his free-agent market value and his fit on a Kings roster that is expected to undergo changes this offseason via trades, free agency and another appearance in the NBA draft lottery.
While Williams has done little to minimize the Kings' lack of frontcourt size and chronic shooting woes, his vision, playmaking and unselfishness have facilitated coach Keith Smart's ongoing attempts to break the team of its dribble-heavy, sluggish tempo. The emergence of Isaiah Thomas, coupled with the potential of Jimmer Fredette and Williams, has at least dropped the need for a pre-eminent point guard down a few spots.
Size, length, shooting. Those are the priorities.
A tremendous athlete with a muscled 220 pounds packed onto his 6-foot-6 frame, Williams' game is as old school as his favorite player, Magic Johnson. The former Louisville standout can defend, handle the ball and rebound, and he has a midrange game a rarity in today's NBA. Mostly, though, he "loves a passer," and it shows. Outlet passes. Soft underhand tosses. Hard, one-bounce throws to cutters. Skip passes to the corners.
"Terrence finds people in their rhythm," said Smart, "and that's not an easy thing to do."
There is nothing easy or even predictable about Williams' life. His father was shot to death when he was 7. While starring in football and basketball at Rainier High School, he spent many nights couch surfing and living with friends, teammates and coaches.
"A terrible background," Louisville coach Rick Pitino described when reached on his cellphone. "I was really hard on Terrence because I wanted to make sure he turned out the right way. He's the type of guy, if you give an inch, he'll take a yard. But if you take the time to get to know him, he's a great person. My family loves him. I love him."
Under Pitino's demanding tutelage, Williams flourished on the court and in the classroom. He earned a bachelor's degree in four years a major accomplishment these days for any college student and graduated only weeks before being drafted by the New Jersey Nets with the 11th overall pick in 2009.
Pitino insists he was "shocked" by subsequent reports about tardiness and maturity issues that accompanied Williams to the Houston Rockets in December 2010.
"Terrence was never late, not one time, maybe because he knew I wouldn't put up with it," Pitino said. "He thought he was a tough guy, though. Ask Cisco (Garcia) sometime about Terrence's recruiting visit. He walks into the gym and asks, 'Who is this Francisco Garcia? He can't be a better player than I am!' I told Cisco to go out there and kick his butt. He needs humbling."
Asked about the encounter, Garcia laughed. "I destroyed him. Ask Terrence how many points he scored."
"None," admitted Williams, 24, grinning. "I never got the ball."
Williams still gets mildly irritated when asked about the reports from the Nets and the Rockets and acknowledges his rookie mistakes, but he quickly references his success at Louisville. And, interestingly, he says his own experiences including verbal jousts with referees during his high school years have furthered a relationship with second-year center DeMarcus Cousins.
"If you get fouled and it's not called," Williams said, "you want to let everybody know. You speak your mind. But you can't do that. Just play."