In Williams’ one season at UNC, 2004-05, the team went 15-0 at home. He played a massive role in one of those home wins: a now-iconic shot against Duke, when he grabbed an offensive rebound and banked in a putback with 17 seconds left.
Williams’ go-ahead shot sealed a 75-73 comeback win in North Carolina’s regular season finale. That team, which also featured Raymond Felton, Sean May and Rashad McCants, went on to win the 2005 national championship.
More than 13 years later, Williams is now 16-0 in the building. The Hornets came back from 20 down against the Celtics, the favorites in the Eastern Conference. Williams started and played 21 minutes; he scored five points on that corner three and a short floater, adding five rebounds. Most importantly, he was back at his alma mater.
“I've definitely seen a lot of my friends here,” he said. “My family came up, which is always great. It's just good to be back around. Coach Williams has been around a ton, which I was really excited to see. So, I was definitely happy about that.”
As he enters his 14th NBA season, Williams has remade himself, in a way. He was the second overall pick of the 2005 NBA Draft, behind Australian big man Andrew Bogut, and spent his first seven seasons with the Atlanta Hawks.
After a two-year stop in Utah, he landed in Charlotte ahead of the 2014-15 season. Since then, Williams has solidified his spot in the league as a stretch forward. His four most prolific seasons, in terms of 3-pointers made, have come in Charlotte. Last year, he made 126 on 41.3 percent shooting and started 78 games.
It’s a stark contrast from his earlier days. In his first three seasons, Williams made 25 threes in 223 games. In the 2007-08 season with the Hawks, when he played 80 games and averaged a career-high 14.8 points per game, Williams made one 3-pointer all season, on just 10 attempts.
By remodeling his game to fit a role needed in today’s NBA, where teams have broken the league-wide record for 3-pointers six seasons in a row, Williams has stuck around. He’ll also have a coaching shakeup this season; the Hornets fired Steve Clifford after five seasons and hired 40-year-old James Borrego, a former Spurs assistant and now the first full-time Hispanic head coach in league history.
“Obviously, we loved playing for Clifford and his staff,” Williams said. “We were all very close with those guys, and we're still close to those guys. But sometimes, it is kind of fun to get with the new staff and do something different. I think J.B. is kind of a breath of fresh air for everybody.”
After he finished his media availability, Williams ducked into the nearby players’ lounge. He caught up with David Noel, another former teammate and 2005 national champion. The two beamed as Noel, now the men’s basketball head coach at Southern Durham, introduced his family.
Then, Williams stepped out onto the court. He had family here, too. Wearing a dark grey hoodie and sweats, he shook hands, doled out hugs and smiled. He had an early morning trip to Sutton’s Drug Store planned for Saturday before the team’s flight to Boston.
For now, though, the 32-year-old Williams simply relaxed, in a building that still feels like home to him, 13 years later.
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