Williams’ Olympic dreams now reality



By Jeremy Werner

After just three years in the NBA, Deron Williams is likely the most celebrated player in Illinois basketball history. His trophy case would at least say so.

But next to the Final Four net, the 2006 All-Rookie Team, 2008 All-NBA Second Team and the 2008 NBA Skills Challenge awards, the Utah Jazz point guard hopes to add one prize: a gold medal.

Williams arrived in Macao, China, on Monday where he will be training and playing exhibition games until Aug. 2, according to USA Basketball spokesman Craig Miller. The team will then travel to Shanhai for four days before arriving in Beijing for the Olympic Games.

“(The Final Four) was one of the best experiences of my life, but having the chance to represent your country and compete at the highest level possible, you can’t even imagine what it’s going to feel like,” Williams said in a June press conference. “I’ve heard stories of how special the opening ceremonies are, so you’re really not going= to know until you get over there. But definitely I put winning a gold medal up there with winning an NBA championship. It’s that special.”

The Utah Jazz point guard will be the first Illini to play for Team USA in the Olympics.

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    “It’s an honor for me to be on this team and an honor for me to represent my country in the Olympics,” Williams said. “I’ve always dreamed about … playing in the Olympics, growing up watching the Dream Team and watching them get a gold medal. I’m just thrilled to death to have the opportunity and the privilege to play on this team and look forward to winning the gold medal.”

    Williams helped Team USA qualify for the 2008 Games when he earned a gold medal on the U.S. team in the FIBA Americas Championship 2007. He also played on the USA under-18 team at the FIBA Americas Championship prior to his freshman season at Illinois and on the USA under-19 team prior to his sophomore season with Illini teammate Dee Brown.

    “(Williams) has the desire and ambition, and that is just as important in international competition as talent, to have a makeup of guys who are willing to give their time and effort, who want to be there and most importantly want to win,” Illinois coach Bruce Weber said in a statement. “I know that Illini fans will now watch the Olympics with even more interest. It is a great source of pride to have one of our own competing on the world’s biggest stage.”

    Williams teams with Jason Kidd and Chris Paul to easily make the best trio of point guards in international competition. Team USA will attempt to rebound from a disappointing bronze-medal finish at the 2004 Games in Athens. Joining Williams on his quest will be NBA stars Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, among others.

    Although Williams just signed a 4-year, $70-million extension with the Jazz, he said he won’t have a satisfying summer unless he achieves one more thing.

    “I feel with the team this year, it’s going to be tough to beat us,” Williams said. “The way we came together and meshed together last year in such a short amount of time was great, and we’ll just look to build on that. The only thing on our mind is winning the medal. Anything less would be disappointing to us, to the fans, everybody.”