In the middle of an interview Jay Williams yawns, but you can forgive him for being a little tired. It's been a long road back for the former Chicago Bulls point guard, whose career was derailed by a horrific motorcycle accident. In June 2003 Williams, the second pick in the 2002 NBA draft, was riding his new Yamaha R6 down a Chicago street when he lost control and crashed into a utility pole. Williams, a novice biker, suffered a fractured pelvis and a severed nerve and torn ligaments in his left leg (SI, Jan. 12, 2004). "Forget about playing basketball," says Williams. "I thought I was going to die."
Six surgeries later, Williams is back fighting for a spot in the NBA. (In 2003 the Bulls bought out the final two years of his contract for $3 million.) There has been no shortage of teams interested in a point guard--especially one who scored 9.5 points per game in his only pro season. So far Williams has worked out for Cleveland, Miami, Houston and Toronto, and he has more sessions scheduled. The Raptors have invited him to training camp in October. "He's not nearly as explosive or quick as he once was," says Toronto general manager Rob Babcock. But Babcock thinks having to rely more on his mental game has helped Williams: "He is a much smarter basketball player, who understands how to be an NBA point guard."
Six days a week Williams, who lives in Chicago, rises at 6 a.m. for a workout regimen that includes Pilates, weights and scrimmages with such NBA veterans as Larry Hughes and Chris Duhon. "The work I'm doing here is tougher than what I would do at an NBA practice," says Williams. "But I think teams are worried that my conditioning won't hold up." Which is why Williams will continue his routine until the season starts. "Sorry," says Williams, stifling that yawn at the end of another long day. "But I get tired just thinking about it." --Chris Mannix
WILLIAM R. SMITH (WILLIAMS)
The former Duke star (in April 2003 and on crutches that September) relies less on his quickness and more on his head.
BOB JORDAN/AP (WILLIAMS ON CRUTCHES)
[See caption above.]