When the Phoenix Suns guaranteed the contract of local prep-to-pro Alan Williams for the 2016-17 season, lots of dreams came true at once.
Williams, a product of North High in Phoenix, went undrafted last June and spent the next nine months rebounding his way onto an NBA court. His Summer League rebounding crown didn’t earn him an NBA job, so he went overseas and led his Chinese league in rebounding too. That got him a 10-day contract with the Suns that blossomed into a remainder-of-season guarantee that has now grown into a full second year as well.
It was a bumpy road to a guaranteed NBA contract, but a journey that reaches the ideal finish line is a journey that was well worth the effort right?
Williams’ contract for nearly a million dollars - the league minimum for a player with his experience - became guaranteed for 2016-17 when he remained on the roster on September 1, 2016.
Jeri Williams, Alan’s mother and biggest fan, is now the Chief of Police in Phoenix but before that she held the same position in Oxnard, California while Alan attended UC Santa Barbara.
The Williams family is taking over Phoenix! Best of luck to Mom and Son! https://t.co/Tj6o2IFuo8— Oxnard Police Dept. (@OxnardPD2016) September 1, 2016
After Alan graduated, his mother seized an opportunity to return to Phoenix as the Chief of Police for the city, just as Alan was gaining his foothold with the Suns after his stint in China.
That’s quite a journey for the two of them. Before Alan went to college, he starred at North High in Phoenix while Jeri ascended to Assistant Chief of Police for the city. When he went to UCSB, she got the top job in Oxnard. Now, both are back in Phoenix living out their dreams.
“We’ve talked about, ‘What if we both end up back in Phoenix?’” Alan told Suns.com this summer. “Now we’ve both taken the steps to make our dreams come true. I’m still grinding and working to get where she is, but the sky is the limit for us both.
“Some people call it chance, but I call it divine intervention for sure. I think it’s part of the plan that God has put forward for us. It’s an exciting time for us and the great city of Phoenix.”
In retrospect, Williams’ place in the NBA for 2016-17 was almost never in doubt. The only question, really, was whether it would be with the Suns.
If the Suns had released Williams, he’d have certainly gotten another chance with one of the other 29 teams. He has earned a reputation as a quality rebounder with a soft touch around the basket, two skills always in demand.
But the Suns wanted to keep Alan all along.
Williams made an impact last spring with his enthusiasm on the bench, cheering for any positive signs in a lost season. Coach Earl Watson credited Big Sauce with livening up the bench in a big way.
So why did it take a year to get a guaranteed NBA contract?
The 6’8” center is not ideally heighted for his only real NBA position. Some might feel more comfortable labeling “Big Sauce” a power forward because of that. But Williams is not a shooter, nor does he have the quick feet necessary to defend the perimeter on a regular basis. So, he really doesn’t profile as a power forward in today’s NBA. This isn’t Charles Oakley or Maurice Lucas’ NBA anymore. This is Draymond Green’s NBA where the PF has to be incredibly multi-talented to succeed.
Williams’ only real NBA position is center. He may not be very tall, but his paint-oriented game, 270 pound heft and 7’2” wingspan allow him to function in the low post on both ends of the court.
Short centers have succeeded before, even when the NBA was a bruisers league. The Suns’ own Alvan Adams was star in the 70s and 80s. Then Oliver Miller rumbled onto the scene in the early 90s before eating his way out. Even when the NBA started getting smaller and quicker, the 6’5” Chuck Hayes made a good career in the pivot doing a lot of what Alan Williams promises. These are just a few examples. Tarik Black and Bismack Biyombo are both 6’9” with long wingspans as well.
Williams can make a long NBA career out of his rebounding prowess and touch around the basket.
He might never be a star, and might never get that big contract and multi-year job security, but the NBA is a good gig if you can get it.
And if we’re all lucky, Williams will continue to beat the odds and make his mark right here in Phoenix where he belongs.