Williams begins comeback in CBA

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 14, 2005

The Associated Press

NAMPA, Idaho - Hoping to return to the NBA, Jayson Williams began his comeback bid Wednesday night.

The former NBA All-Star scored two points and grabbed four rebounds in limited action just hours after signing a contract with the Idaho Stampede of the Continental Basketball Association.

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Williams, who faces reckless manslaughter charges related to a 2002 shooting at his New Jersey mansion, has said he hopes to use the CBA as a springboard for his return to the NBA.

Williams, who turns 37 next month, quit professional basketball in 2000 because of knee problems.

''Interested NBA teams want assurances that I am fully recovered and can withstand the rigors of daily competition,'' Williams said in a statement Wednesday. ''The very competitive CBA will provide me with this opportunity.''

The 6-foot-10 forward did not start Wednesday's game against the Yakima Sun Kings, but was the first man off the bench in both halves of Idaho's 117-109 win, playing more than nine minutes. He drew a polite cheer from the announced crowd of 2,367 when he first took the floor about midway through the first quarter.

''I felt great. I really appreciated it. I was a little rusty,'' Williams said after the game.

Williams appeared to run without problems and was going out of his way to be gracious, at one point profusely thanking a towel girl. He exchanged handshakes and hugs with members of the Sun Kings at halfcourt after the game, and was the last to leave the autograph table.

Idaho head coach Joe Wolf, who played against Williams in the NBA, said Williams hadn't had a chance to practice with the team before the game. ''He hasn't run our sets. But he showed tremendous energy. I expect a lot from him,'' Wolf said.

Williams, who made a name for himself in the NBA with his rebounding, grabbed four rebounds Wednesday night, all defensive.

''Everybody needs a second chance,'' said Stampede season ticket holder Don Young. ''If he was a carpenter or a car salesman, somebody would hire him. He plays basketball, this is what he does.''

Some fans sounded more skeptical of his motivations.

''He's probably got a few attorney's fees to pay,'' said Bill Stroud.

The Stampede signed Williams to improve its rebounding and wasn't deterred by his legal difficulties, said general manager John Brunelle. ''The best case scenario would be that he performs really well, we win ball games, and the NBA makes him the third call up from the Stampede this season,'' Brunelle said.

Williams was acquitted in April of aggravated manslaughter in the Feb. 14, 2002, shooting death of a limousine driver, Costas ''Gus'' Christofi. He convicted on four counts stemming from a failed bid to conceal the shooting.

His retrial on a charge of reckless manslaughter is due to begin in March.

Williams, who called the shooting an accident, won't be sentenced on the four cover-up convictions until the remaining charge is settled. Possible sentences run from probation to about five years in prison. The reckless manslaughter charge carries a possible 10-year sentence.

Williams played nine seasons for the New Jersey Nets and Philadelphia 76ers. He averaged ten or more rebounds per game in his final four NBA seasons; his rebounding prowess earned him a trip to the 1998 All-Star game.