Welcome to the Show, Jay Williams. With Bill Simmons gone from ESPN, there’s room for a new face on the Worldwide Leader in Sports’ NBA draft coverage, and the former Duke basketball star is set to fill that void.
The 33-year-old Williams’ playing career was ended prematurely by a shocking accident, but he has recovered better than many would have, and his recent work as a college basketball analyst has proven him worthy of this new role. Let’s take a look at everything you need to know about him.
1. He Played Multiple Sports in High School
While at St. Joseph High School in Metuchen, New Jersey, Williams did a little bit of everything. He lettered two years in soccer. He tried out volleyball for fun and became all-state. He was on the chess team. He entered a poetry contest and won.
But while he was seemingly good at everything, he was exceptional at basketball. Leading his team to the state finals as both a junior and senior, he was named a 1999 McDonald’s All-American (he was later named one of the 35 greatest players to participate in the game) and chose to attend Duke University.
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2. He Was a Star at Duke
“He could be an NFL running back dribbling the basketball,” said Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski. “Like he’s that strong. Like he jumped out of the screen. I knew as soon as I saw him he’d be special. Really, he was one of the most explosive players in the history of college basketball.”
The accolades are seemingly endless. He was the National Freshman of the Year, he was a consensus first-team All-American as a sophomore and junior, he was the AP Player of the Year as a junior, he won the Wooden Award as a junior and he led the Blue Devils to a national championship as a sophomore.
He remains one of the most prolific players in the program’s storied history, and that still might not have been his biggest accomplishment. Williams graduated from Duke with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and business, making him the first athlete in the school’s history to earn a degree in three years.
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3. A Motorcycle Accident Ended His NBA Career After 1 Year in the NBA
The No. 2 pick by the Chicago Bulls in the 2002 NBA draft, Williams averaged 9.5 points, 4.7 assists and 1.1 steals as a freshman. It wasn’t a standout season by any means, but he showed flashes of being a future star, like when he tallied 26 points, 14 rebounds and 13 assists, winning a duel against Jason Kidd in just his seventh professional game.
During the offseason, though, tragedy struck when Williams crashed his motorcycle. He was not wearing a helmet, didn’t have a proper license and was in violation of his contract with the Bulls. He suffered a broken leg, broken pelvis and torn ACL, and he would never play professional basketball again.
Williams, who suffered from depression and considered suicide during the years following the accident, has found acceptance. He speaks candidly about the incident, has done motivational speaking and has a book set to come out in 2016 called “Life Is Not an Accident: A Memoir of Reinvention.”
“I have a second chance to be here and live my life fully, the way that I should have been living my life in the first place” he said during an interview with Oprah.
4. He Has Been a College Basketball Analyst at ESPN Since 2008
Following his accident, Williams did some work for ESPN in 2003, but he didn’t join full-time until 2008. Working primarily as a college basketball analyst, he recently joined the “College GameDay” crew, he calls the “ESPNU ACC Sunday Night Basketball” games, he has appeared on “Numbers Never Lie” and he blogs regularly for ESPN.com.
Williams’ talents seemed wasted during last year’s NBA draft when he was used to interview the draftees, so it will be nice to see him bring his extensive college basketball knowledge to this year’s event. Simmons, the man Williams is replacing, was entertaining but also primarily an NBA guy.
5. He Dated ‘Fox Sports Live’ Host Charissa Thompson
Williams and Charissa Thompson, who worked together at ESPN, dated for a while but broke up in 2014.
Thompson co-hosted programs “Numbers Never Lie,” “SportsNation” and “ESPN First Take” before leaving for Fox Sports in May 2013.