In addition to facing stiffer competition, Williams also had to contend with injuries during his collegiate playing days.
“I had many setbacks my junior year,” he recalls. “I dealt with a broken nose multiple times, which led to multiple concussions. But each time, they worked in my favor. I believe it was God’s way of slowing me down for a bigger purpose.”
But facing off with adversity paid off in a big way for Williams in his senior year. In 2005, the Tar Heels won the NCAA tournament. Williams averaged 13.1 points, 4.0 rebounds and 1.4 assists per game in his senior season. A champion, he graduated from UNC that year with a B.A.“ Playing at UNC taught me how much of a team sport basketball really is,” Williams says. “You can have great players, but if you don’t have chemistry between those players, nothing gets accomplished.”
When his time at UNC came to a close, with a championship under his belt, Williams made his way to the pros. He wasn’t drafted in 2005 but was signed as a free agent by the Los Angeles Clippers in 2006. He appeared in four pre-season games for the Clippers that year. He didn’t make the final roster that year, and played overseas for a couple of years. In 2008, he joined the Cleveland Cavaliers’ summer league, and ultimately made their roster that season.
“When you become a pro, everything changes,” Williams says. “When money is involved, you see how much the game really is a business.”
Since his time playing for the Cavs, Williams has played basketball professionally all around the world. He has played for teams in France, Greece, Israel, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain and Turkey, and now plays in Japan. His teams have won championships twice in France and three times in Japan. Williams himself has also been named an all star in France, Japan and Turkey. In addition to his time on the court, Williams has found time to give back to the communities that he has called home.
“I am president of a non-profit organization called Strive to Excel,” he explains. “We do a lot of work to help disadvantaged youth in my hometown of Cleveland, as well as in North Carolina.”
Throughout it all, Williams has kept his perspective and love of the sport front and center. The teams he plays for may change, but his commitment to excellence and the spirit of competition stay consistent.
“My advice to young people playing basketball is to make sure you’re having fun,” he says. “Once you stop having fun, this game isn’t for you because there are ups and downs. The love of the game gets you through tough moments.”
Always keep the fun, but remember that winning effort and dedication, as well. “I would also say to work hard each and every day,” Williams suggests. “Nothing will be achieved without putting in the work.”
When he isn’t playing basketball, Jawad Williams puts his time and effort toward a charitable effort that he launched a few years ago. The organization is called Strive to Excel, and it is a labor of love for Williams.
“Strive To Excel was an idea I had as a child with my older cousin, Derick Hillmon, to make the inner city where we grew up in Cleveland a better place,” Williams says. “Derick had a quote on his school picture that said, ‘Strive To Excel never to equal.’ We brought our idea to life in 2015. Since then we have put on basketball clinics, donated a lot of our resources to communities that are in bad shape.”