Much as I love the Bulls and try to follow the latest, I don’t often keep close tabs on the young hopefuls chosen to play for the team during the NBA Summer League. But just yesterday, I caught a glimpse in a short Sports Illustrated piece of a very special roster addition: a slightly older, but still promise-filled power forward named Darrell Williams.
Unlike his hero brother, who was gunned down on the Chicago streets, Williams not only survived life in the Robert Taylor Homes, but soared to a top basketball prospect while at Dunbar Vocational (he graduated in 2008).
He chose Oklahoma State University and within the first 10 games of the season became, as assistant coach Steve Middleton told me, “undoubtedly the leader of this basketball team.” His talents already landed him on the radar of several basketball scouts, and his life arrow seemed pointed directly at the bulls eye of a pro career.
Then, in allegations that seemed inconceivable given Williams’s gentle disposition and almost universal likability, he was accused of sexually assaulting two female students at a campus party. I detailed the harrowing saga of Williams’s court battle to clear his name (he initially was declared a sex offender, jailed for a time, kicked off the OSU team, and suffered rejection after rejection from other colleges big and small), and finally a reversal of those charges, in “The Long Rebound,” published in the September 2014 issue of Chicago.
In the Hollywood version of his story, I wrote then, his good name is restored and he graduates college, “just another student, a little taller than most, but just another face in a sea of thousands. He moves the tassel from one side of his mortarboard to the other. And he smiles his big smile. The nightmare is over. His honor is restored. He is free.”
That in itself would have been a fairytale ending. But Williams landed a spot on the Texas A&M-Commerce basketball team, his first game coming 33 months after he’d last played a college game. He went on to be named the Lone Star Conference player of the year, newcomer of the year, and earn most valuable player honors in the conference tournament.
Then, last May, he returned to Oklahoma State to fulfill his dream. Because he had earned most of his credits there (he took classes even while he was in jail), he was awarded his degree by the university.
Now comes word of perhaps the unlikeliest wonder of all: an invitation to play for his hometown Bulls in the NBA Summer League, an opportunity that could turn into an invitation to try out for Chicago or another NBA team (several have expressed interest).
Back when I reported the story, I asked Williams how he could survive having his dreams shattered. He told me, “God has a plan.” Since then, I’ve realized how deeply he believed it.