BOSTON (CBS) — Akeem Williams had a tremendous career at UMass-Lowell, but he wasn’t sure if he’d get a chance to further his time on the basketball court.
The Brockton native finished third at UMass-Lowell with 2,057 points, and was the leading scorer in the America East Conference as a senior last season. But the school, which just became Division 1 last season, doesn’t get much recognition on the national stage, so Williams went relatively unknown in the college ranks despite his impressive numbers. Because of that, he wasn’t surprised when he didn’t hear from NBA teams about participating in any pre-draft workouts.
That is until earlier this week. When his phone first rang and it was the Boston Celtics on the other end asking him to come to a workout on Wednesday, Williams had to make sure it wasn’t a friend pulling a prank.
“I had to look at the phone to see who was calling me,” the 5-10 Williams said with a smile following his 2 1/2 hour workout on Wednesday. “Once he told me the news and said it was for real, I was ready for it.
“It’s a little shocking, honestly. I really never expected this,” he said of the invite. “When I got the call I knew I wanted to continue playing and I knew it was something I’ve wanted to do my entire life. I was laying in bed when I got the call, just watching TV, and as soon as I got off the phone I went to the gym.”
So Williams traded in his RiverHawks gear for Celtics’ green, joining five other draft hopefuls at the C’s practice facilities in Waltham on Wednesday.
“It’s amazing, it’s a dream come true,” he said. “Playing at a small D-1 school I never envisioned getting this opportunity. I got the call two days ago to come try out and from there I just started working out to get myself prepared.”
Williams, who is hoping to sign with a professional team overseas, said he wanted to play for a Division 1 team after his high school career at Avon High and then The Winchendon School came to a close. But he never got that chance to play at a major program, and instead opted for the smaller stage at UMass-Lowell.
But that gave him a chip on his shoulder, and he wouldn’t disappoint fans of the RiverHawks. He set UMass Lowell’s freshman points record with 546 points (18.2 points per game), and then lead the nation in scoring during both his sophomore (17.7 points per game) and junior (19.9) seasons. Then when UMass-Lowell was bumped up to Division 1 last year, the guard averaged 15.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game.
“Growing up I always wanted to play Division 1, and I got a scholarship to a Division 2 school. From that point I was always playing with a chip on my shoulder, because I wanted to prove to everyone that I belonged in Division 1,” he said. “Then my senior year we got bumped up, and from there I played my heart out every night. Now I have an opportunity to continue to play and I’m enjoying it.”
Willaims said Wednesday’s session, led by Celtics head coach Brad Stevens, consisted of a lot of ball-handling and pick-and-rolls. He showed off his game alongside Michigan State’s Adreian Payne, Memphis’ Michael Dixon, Oregon State’s Eric Moreland, South Florida’s Victor Rudd and Clint Capela of Switzerland.
Payne is likely going to be taken in the first round, and could be a lottery pick in the draft later this month. But Williams wasn’t star-struck to be around some of D-1’s best players.
“I got over my jitters this year. We opened the season against Michigan at Michigan, so I think from there I kind of got my butterflies out and dabbled my feet in the whole D-1 world,” he said. “This wasnt really too nerve-wracking for me — I just tried to enjoy it.”
Williams said The Boston Garden is his favorite place to play, though he didn’t have a great game when he played there in high school. He would love to get the opportunity to don a Celtics’ jersey full-time, and being a local boy, his family would love to see him in green.
“My mom is loving it, she wants some Celtics gear,” he joked. “But my dad and mom are really happy for me, and they just want me to go out and play my hardest. I have nothing to lose out here.”
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