Former SIU star guard Kent Williams working hard to make professional dreams a reality, but for now, all he can do is play …

By Gus Bode

All Kent Williams can do now is wait.

The departed Saluki star guard and No. 2 all-time scorer is sitting back in anticipation of what Thursday night’s NBA Draft may mean for his future.

Williams does not expect to be among the 58 players selected, but that does not mean he has given up hope of playing in the NBA.

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The Mount Vernon native said there are about seven teams interested in bringing him in for a workout or having him play on their summer league squads, but it is still too early to get a feel for what will happen.

Williams, who was a media darling in Southern Illinois, did not get the national exposure that some other draft hopefuls received in college, but professional scouts know who he is.

He took part in the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, which is a showcase for top college seniors where every NBA team is represented. Williams teamed with players such as Maryland’s Tahj Holden and Miami’s James Jones in leading Sales System Ltd. to the tournament championship.

In the final game, Williams, who had scored just 11 points in the first two contests, left his mark, notching 17 points and hitting three of six three-point attempts.

The next step to being drafted would have been to have a strong showing at the crucial Chicago Pre-Draft Camp, but Williams was not invited.

But Williams does not feel that has killed his NBA hopes.

“[NBA scouts are] kind of high on me right now because the last thing I did for everybody looked good,” Williams said. ” Then you got to think, more than half the people go to Chicago and look bad. A lot of guys go there and knock themselves out of being drafted.”

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Since the Portsmouth Invitational, Williams has done anything but remain idle.

After graduation, Williams left home to train in Minneapolis, where his agent set him up with a basketball and a conditioning coach. Williams came back to Carbondale for a few weeks, which he spent working out and playing pick-up games with his former SIU teammates.

While up north, he worked out for the Minnesota Timberwolves and their upper brass, including general manager and NBA Hall of Famer Kevin McHale and head coach Flip Saunders.

Williams thinks he played well but figures they were not really paying as much attention to him as they were to prospective draft picks.

“Obviously, I know I’m not a drafted player, so they don’t really talk to guys like me so much right now,” Williams said. “What you need to say is to keep your options open. They’re kind of looking at you, but they’re worried about their draft picks right now more than anything.”

The Timberwolves are no stranger to SIU players, with starting point guard Troy Hudson being a former Saluki.

The similarities between Hudson and Williams are eerie.

The knock on Hudson, who was not drafted after leaving SIU following his junior year, was that he was more of a scorer than a true point guard, a belief Williams is now fighting.

“All these NBA teams said that they feel good about my game and they like it, but they haven’t seen me play the point,” Williams said. “It’s not that they think I can’t do it, it’s just they said they haven’t seen me do it and that’s the question coming in.”

Another similarity the two may potentially have is that Hudson got his first crack at the NBA with the Utah Jazz.

Williams said the Jazz, who just lost future Hall of Fame point guard John Stockton to retirement, are one of the teams interested in bringing him in for a summer league. He said the team’s style of play is something that intrigues him.

Utah head coach Jerry Sloan hails from nearby McLeansboro and has a soft spot for players like Williams who are not afraid to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team.

“I know I can fit in well and Sloan is a guy that likes hard-nosed guys that dive on the floor and do things like that, and I’m willing to do that,” Williams said. “Hopefully, if I get a chance to be there, it could end up being a good situation.”

Whether it is with Utah or Minnesota or another team, what Williams is now hoping for is just the chance to play on a summer league team and prove that he can handle the point guard position.

New SIU head coach Matt Painter, who coached Williams for four years as an SIU assistant, said any team that gives Williams a shot is going to like what he brings to the team. Painter said Williams will make some coach happy whether it be in the NBA, the Continental Basketball Association or even overseas.

“He has that will, he has that desire to win and just his overall work ethic is contagious,” Painter said. “Hopefully he can bring that to the table and people can see through some of the other shortcomings and see that they have a winner there.”

Besides the advantage of being scouted by other NBA teams, summer league participants are also seen by scouts from all of the top European leagues.

Playing overseas is something Williams is not against. He has twice played in tournaments in Europe, once in Italy and once in Poland, and said that experience gave him a small feel of life in the Eastern Hemisphere.

He said if his choices are between slumming in a league in the states such as the CBA or the National Basketball Development League, he might as well cross the Atlantic Ocean and make some money.

“The CBA life isn’t a good life to live,” Williams said. “It’s hard and you travel around a lot and there’s not much money thrown out there. You can go overseas and maybe make six figures, if you’re lucky, but you can make good money and it’s tax-free.”

But before committing to any other league, Williams is going to give it everything he has to play in the NBA.

“It’s my first year and you might as well try for the NBA while you can,” Williams said. “I’m young and I mean, I need money, but I don’t need it at the same time.

“It’s just a matter of going for your dream.”

Reporter Jens Deju can be reached at [email protected]

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