Editor’s note: Welcome to Wayback Wednesday! This will be the space in which we look back at Blue Devils past and what they meant to us as fans and to the basketball world at large. Forgive any bias or nostalgia, sometimes we can’t help ourselves!
This week’s journey in the Wayback Machine takes us back to the early 2000’s when computers almost ended the world and Duke basketball was at their K2 of peaks under Mike Krzyzewski. From 1999-2002, Duke was led by their second star point guard out of New Jersey and perhaps the best of three: Jay Williams.
Williams was a force to be reckoned with from Day 1 on campus. Before the era of one-and-done players, Williams was a bonafide freshman star as he averaged 14.5 points, 6.5 assists and 4.2 rebounds per game en route to every honor a freshman would want to receive (ACC Freshman of the Year, National Freshman of the Year, First-Team Freshman All-American).
As a sophomore, Williams led Duke to the 2001 national title by scoring a school-record 841 points and earing NABC Player of the Year honors. Shane Battier’s 778 points that year made the duo the first group to score over 700 points in the same season (Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler 2009-10).
As though a national championship and one player of the year award wasn’t enough, Williams followed that up with a 2001-02 season that included the John Wooden Award, Oscar Robertson Award and James Naismith Award, thereby sweeping the most prestigious national player of the year awards. Williams would leave the school that spring, after graduating in just three years, as the sixth-highest scoring player in Duke history and with his No. 22 in the rafters.
Not only was Williams a dominant offensive player, but he was a lockdown defensive presence as well. He had the ideal body for a point guard during this era of basketball and he used it to his advantage during his time in Durham. His prolific college career saw him drafted No. 2 in the 2002 NBA Draft after Yao Ming.
One of the original physical point guards, Williams game would have been perfectly suited for the hand-check free era of the NBA that began in 1999 and opened the game up for more physical point men. These rule changes took a few years to take hold, but once they did we saw players like Steve Nash win multiple MVP awards.
But unfortunately, Williams career came to an end on June 19, 2003 when he was involved in a nasty motorcycle accident. This accident occurred after Williams fought his way through an up-and-down rookie campaign that included a triple-double against the New Jersey Nets in just his seventh NBA game (26 points, 14 rebounds, 13 assists).
For my money, Williams would have been the best point guard of his generation with his blend of offensive ability and physical gifts. The headline says he was Derrick Rose before Derrick Rose and that I believe. Had he not gotten in that accident, we likely would have seen a talent like Rose in the league before forwards were as athletic as they are now.
Would he have been a Hall of Famer? That’s tough to say. But it’s hard to look at the career arcs of Jason Kidd and Deron Williams and not see Jay Williams being one of the best players of the decade.
But for us Duke fans, we will always have 1999-02. Thanks, Jay, you were my favorite.