CHICAGO — A lot has changed in Trevion Williams’ hometown. The Chicago native and former Purdue standout almost couldn’t recognize the city he grew up in while participating in the NBA Draft Combine at Wintrust Arena from May 18-20.
Williams likened it to being “out of town” with new buildings in places he’d never seen before, but one thing that hasn’t changed is what the city instilled in him.
“If you’ve ever been to a park anywhere in Chicago, it’s something you don’t want to see,” Williams said. “It’s really intense. Obviously, you’re in a park, there’s no fouls called so it makes you tougher. So I grew up playing in the park as much as I could, but after a while my mom told me I wasn’t allowed to go because, obviously, the violence was very high growing up. But it kind of makes me who I am, just having that toughness.”
Doyel:Smile, Purdue fans. Your seniors just beat IU on senior day. But we get the nerves.
That grit followed Williams when he fled Chicago — due to his uncle, Tyjuan Lewis, being shot and killed on Sept. 20, 2015 — and finished high school in Michigan. He became a star at Henry Ford Academy in Detroit over his final two prep seasons and earned several Division I scholarship offers before continuing his career at Purdue.
The 6-9 forward had a breakout junior season, averaging career-highs of 15.5 points and 9.1 rebounds, and was named First Team All-Big Ten. But last season, Williams came off the bench and had his minutes cut from roughly 25 to 20. He made the most of his opportunity with 12.0 points and 7.4 rebounds per game en route to receiving Big Ten Sixth Man of the Year and Second Team All-Big Ten honors, which is a feat Williams believes could define the next stage of his career.
The 21-year-old said his sacrifices at Purdue proves he’ll accept any role in the NBA, but unlike his last season with the Boilermakers, the combine allowed him to show scouts his entire skill set. Williams was a full participant, competing in athletic drills and testing as well as two scrimmages with other prospects.
“I feel like I’m the best ball-handler and passer out of the big men here,” Williams said. “I don’t like to kind of put myself above everybody. I’m a very humble guy, but playing at Purdue a lot of people haven’t seen what I really can do, so being here, it’s special. Being here just allows you to be more free on the court.”
Williams averaged a career-high 3.0 assists last season and had a handful of eyepopping passes at the combine. He named reigning two-time league MVP Nikola Jokic, three-time NBA champion Draymond Green and former All-Star Julius Randle as players he models his game after in the NBA.
Another talented big man Williams thinks highly of is Milwaukee’s Bobby Portis, who spoke to prospects about the danger of being too trusting with the 2022 NBA Draft looming on June 23. Before Portis won a title with the Bucks last season, he was drafted 22nd overall by the Bulls in 2015. Williams is projected as a late second-round pick or may go undrafted.
The Pacers have the No. 6, No. 31 and No. 58 selections.
“I’m trying my hardest not to think about that,” Williams said. ” … (Portis) talked about how he went and worked out for teams and they told him, ‘Oh, we’re gonna pick you, and we want you,’ and those teams never ended up picking him. So whether I go second round or undrafted, man, it doesn’t matter to me. At the end of the day, I’m doing what I love. There’s plenty of guys in the NBA who are successful now and didn’t get drafted, so I’m never worried about that.”
Williams worked out for Bucks and the Celtics before the combine and had more workouts lined up with the Lakers, Kings and Warriors.
He said he’ll most likely watch the draft in Chicago with his inner circle, surrounded by the hardnosed parks that birthed his career. Williams added that it’s surreal to follow in the footsteps of fellow Chicago natives Derrick Rose and Jabari Parker, who were drafted first and second overall in 2008 and 2014, respectively.
He hopes to inspire the next wave of players from their hometown — the place he once left but always loved — like those two inspired him.
“I could’ve easily been one of those kids in the streets, easily been one of the kids not doing anything with my life,” Williams said. “A long time ago, I decided I wanted to play basketball, and my family made that very clear with me that, ‘You have a chance at this. You’re definitely the special one out of the family and just take advantage of your talents and God-given gifts.’ …
“It makes me feel good to see those kids smile and just have fun with the game. I remember being that kid that wanted to play with the grownups, that wanted to play with the older guys to better myself. So it’s all about remembering where you come from.”
Follow IndyStar Pacers beat writer James Boyd on Twitter: @RomeovilleKid. Reach him via email: email@example.com.