William Avery greets each opponent with trepidation.
Still a baby-faced NBA rookie, the Augusta native has quickly found not every kind word is sincere. The Minnesota Timberwolves selected Avery with the 14th pick in the first round of June's NBA draft following a breakout sophomore season at Duke.
Avery's indoctrination into professional basketball has eliminated much of the 20-year-old's naivete.
"They come out at you," Avery said. "They don't care how old you are. Guys try to be your friend then later they try to kill you."
The 6-foot-2, 180-pound sharpshooter will make his NBA debut tonight in the Tokyo Dome when Minnesota meets Sacramento (10:30 p.m. TNT).
Avery has relocated his sister and mother to Minnesota. Maintaining his productivity during a grueling 82-game season requires rest and a strict diet. His mother, Terri Simonton, monitors his diet from a house just down the street in Minneapolis. Avery continues to sharpen his passing, ball handling and shooting skills.
The NBA instituted tighter constraints on defenders this year to encourage more scoring. Avery claims the new rules will benefit his game.
"It's a whole new style of game," Avery said. "They want to speed up the game to add more offense. The point guards have the advantage."
In limited action in the preseason, Avery averaged four points with a high of 14 against Milwaukee Oct. 16 when he hit four of five 3-pointers. Four days later in a rematch with the Bucks, he contributed 11 points in 25 minutes of action.
In his first year as a Duke starter last season, Avery emerged as one of the premiere point guards in the nation. He averaged 14.9 points and 5.1 assists in Duke's 37-2 season while shooting 41 percent from behind the 3-point arc.
Citing financial hardship, the former Westside High star declared himself eligible for the NBA draft in April. The draft decimated Duke's dominating lineup with sophomore Elton Brand (1st), senior Trajan Langdon (11th) and freshman Corey Maggette (13th) all taken in the first round.
Despite the agony of losing to Connecticut in the national championship game, Avery could not reject NBA riches to assist Duke's rebuilding effort.
"Yes, we would've been good but last year's team was special and couldn't be duplicated," Avery said.
Critics blasted Avery's decision to bypass his final two years of collegiate eligibility saying his inexperience running the point would be detrimental to his draft stock. He silenced the naysayers by conducting long-range shooting clinics during pre-draft workouts.
Minnesota, which shot 30 percent from 3-point range last year, was sold on the confident outside assassin when he drained 17 of 20 3-pointers in an individual exhibition. Avery is backing up nine-year veteran starter Terrell Brandon, allowing him to make a gradual adjustment to the NBA.
Determined not to be a NBA footnote, Avery insists his work has just begun. Being drafted fulfilled a childhood goal but he understands his livelihood is at stake and has no intentions of surrendering his No. 5 uniform any time soon.
"I don't want to see that jersey taken away from me," Avery said. "It was a dream come true. They let me keep that (draft day) jersey. I'm here now. This is it. Whatever I make of it, that's how my life will be."
Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.
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