When it comes to offensive rebounding, the Nets' Jayson Williams
is so good that his teammates call him Flipper. "I'm like a
dolphin," Williams jokes. "I keep bringing the ball back to
them. Sometimes they want me to bring it back on my nose."
Despite being one of the smallest centers in the league, the
6'10", 250-pound Williams leads the league in offensive boards
this season, with 381 at week's end. (Dennis Rodman, with 287,
was a distant second.) "Sometimes I just take a couple of steps
in and jump as high as I can," Williams says. "Other times I use
my elbows and try to fight my way in there. It's mostly hard
work, but there are also a few tricks involved."
Indeed, on the offensive glass Williams has more tricks than a
porpoise at Sea World. "Unlike a lot of players, I watch the
flight of the ball," Williams says. "I also know how my
teammates shoot. When Sam Cassell misses, he tends to be short.
Keith Van Horn, from the corner, tends to miss left or right,
never short or long. Sherman Douglas, he shoots a looping shot,
and the ball usually bounces softly around the rim, so I try to
stay near the hoop."
Williams, who bench-presses 450 pounds, also uses his strength
to prevent his defender from boxing him out. "It's very
important to get yourself planted on the blocks," he says. "Guys
get frustrated when you try to go around them all the time.
You've got to get in position, or you'll get hit in the face
with a lot of elbows."
When he can't get planted, however, Williams gets a running
start and "crashes" from outside. "I've got great feeling in my
hands from laying bricks," says Williams, who spent summers as a
teenager doing construction work alongside his father in New
York City. "A ball can be 15 feet from the rim, and sometimes I
can tip it right into the basket."
On the road Williams makes a point of checking the tightness of
the basket rims during warmups--something he picked up from
former Nets assistant coach Paul Silas, one of the league's
legends under the boards. "He taught me that it's all about
geometry and knowing angles," Williams says. "He helped me
become a great rebounder."
Now Williams seems poised to elbow and crash his way past Silas
into the offensive rebounding pantheon. If he can maintain his
current pace of 6.9 offensive boards per game, he will finish
the season with 567, which would be the third-best total in NBA
history, behind Moses Malone's 587 in 1978-79 and 573 in '79-80.
"Fans might not always notice when you're working hard on the
offensive boards," Williams says. "But it really feels good
after the game when your teammates come up to you and say, 'Yo,
Flipper, thanks.'" Even if they don't pat him on the head and
toss him a fish. --M.B.
COLOR PHOTO: MANNY MILLAN [Larry Johnson, Jayson Williams and Allan Houston in game]