Originally created 04/02/00

NBA gives Avery a new look at life



MINNEAPOLIS -- Wincing from emotional torture, William Avery tries to avert his eyes from the video.

Unpleasant memories flash across the screen, haunting reminders of Avery's final year on the college court. Avery can't forget how this story unfolds. Last April, his Duke Blue Devils were relegated to second best after a season of domination.

It's been a year since Connecticut humbled Duke 77-74 in the NCAA Championship game. While his former Westside High backcourt mate Ricky Moore delighted in the Huskies' first national title, Avery wallowed in misery March 29 at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.

He becomes distraught seeing video clips from his collegiate finale during an interview with Mark Rosen, a Minneapolis television personality who is the host of a weekend wrapup show.

"I never will probably (watch it)," Avery said. "I hate to watch that game. I rested after the game and asked myself, `If I could've done this or that, would we have won?' That's when I started thinking of the NBA."

Duke finished 37-2 and decimated its opponents by an average of 25 points before being toppled by the Huskies. On April 19, Avery announced he would forgo his final two years of collegiate eligibility and make the leap to the NBA.

THE MINNESOTA TIMBERWOLVES selected the Augusta native with the 14th overall pick June 30. His financial and playing status have been opposites in the past year.

Avery, 20, signed a guaranteed three-year contract with an option for a fourth worth $4.5 million. The 6-foot-2 point guard is platooning with three-year pro Bobby Jackson behind starter Terrell Brandon. Used sparingly, Avery is being groomed as the Timberwolves' guard of the future.

"I wouldn't get any joy playing 25 minutes and losing by 30 points," said Avery, who averages 2.4 points and eight minutes per game. "I find no joy in losing. I've won all my life."

Jackson, a former University of Minnesota guard, will be a free agent at the end of this season and is likely to seek a bigger contract elsewhere.

Brandon sympathizes with Avery's situation. The two-time all-star spent the first four years of his career behind Mark Price in Cleveland. Brandon, a nine-year veteran, said Avery ultimately will benefit from his apprenticeship.

"He's young, and he's learning about the game and what it means to be a point guard," Brandon said. "He's going to be a good player as long as he continues to improve. He has to learn his role. When he's been in the league six or seven years, he'll look back and know this helped him.

"You'll get better when you play against NBA talent every day."

ROLLING SOUTHWEST ON Minnesota Highway 62 in his Cadillac Escalade, Avery fields calls on his incessantly ringing cell phone. The black SUV bumps to the raps of Jay Z as he heads to his townhouse in the upscale Minneapolis suburb of Eden Prairie.

It's a 20-minute ride from the T-Wolves' home court, the Target Center, and the cell phone appears attached to Avery's ear. Darrell Shultz rides shotgun and is Avery's constant companion.

Shultz relocated to Minnesota from Augusta at the request of his lifelong pal. Aside from a pair of SUVs and a $10,000 silver necklace complete with a basketball medallion, Avery resembles a college student more than a millionaire.

"That's just Will," Schultz said. "He's just chill, and he'll never get outside that. He'll always be the same."

Leaving Duke early was strictly a financial decision. He felt obligated to provide for his family, particularly his mother, whose back injury prevented her from working.

Avery purchased a house in Augusta's National Hills after signing with the Timberwolves but is renting the townhouse he shares with Shultz and another childhood friend, Watkins Hightower.

His mother, Terri Simonton, and sister, Rhonda, live in the same complex. Avery used his $100,000 signing bonus to clear debt and establish residences for his family.

"It was fun to go into a store and not look at a price tag," Avery said. "I've got everything I need and put the rest away. I never want to live check to check."

Mundane visits to restaurants and the mall are done in anonymity. Avery uses his fame only to bypass long lines outside clubs in downtown Minneapolis.

REALIZING THE UNCERTAINTY of professional sports, Simonton preaches long-term security. She oversees Avery's finances and is encouraging him to save $1.3 million of his first contract.

"He saves a pretty good portion of his salary," Simonton said. "I don't want him to look back after three years and not have anything to show for it. The next contract is not guaranteed."

Simonton's emphasis on a frugal lifestyle is illustrated in Avery's moderate three-bedroom home. A big-screen television is the only evidence of his expanded bank account.

Avery exhibited surprising prudence during a recent lunch excursion. At the conclusion of the meal, the first-round draft pick took his leftover chicken fingers and fries home.

Although he assists his immediate family financially, Avery isn't bombarded with monetary requests. Avery cited his grandmother's needs as one reason for bolting Duke, but she refuses to move from her Hazel Street home, near where William first began honing his basketball skills.

"If I see something I just do it," Avery said of his financial responsibilities.

Timberwolves coach Flip Saunders said Avery follows the example of 10-year veteran Sam Mitchell, a fellow Georgian.

"He's not very extravagant," Saunders said. "Sam Mitchell has taken him under his wing and showed him what it means to be a professional."

Mitchell, a Columbus native, respects Avery's unassuming personality and passion to elevate his game. The Timberwolves' forward believes Avery has star potential but needs proper grooming.

"He's going to be a great player," Mitchell said. "He's shown great patience for a rookie. I think he did the right thing, coming out."

LEFT SOBBING in the middle of the court, Avery was consoled by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski after the Blue Devils' loss to Connecticut. Although Krzyzewski didn't agree with his guard's decision to enter the draft, he believes Avery can adapt to the NBA's set-play offenses.

"Playing behind a real pro like Terrell Brandon will really help him," Krzyzewski said at the ACC Tournament last month. "The more playing time in crucial times he gets will help him develop."

An inquisitive understudy, Avery has been blessed with quality instructors throughout his career. His basketball tutelage began at Augusta's May Park under Moore, followed by a stint as Steve Wojciechowski's backup his freshman season at Duke.

In his sophomore year, Avery emerged as a top point guard when his scoring averaged swelled from 8.5 to 14.9 points on a team with four first-round draft picks.

Avery also has been fortunate to play for former point guards. Krzyzewski ran Army's offense in the late 1960s, and Saunders starred at the University of Minnesota in the 1970s.

Saunders appreciates Avery's situation. Kevin Garnett is the franchise player, Wally Szczerbiak is the Timberwolves' rookie sensation and Brandon is responsible for distributing the ball.

"You understand the pressure he's under," Saunders said. "You try to be a little more patient, but being a former point guard you're more demanding because you know what he should be doing. It's the best and worst of both worlds."

AVERY'S ROOKIE SEASON has been a three-act play. In the first part, he acclimated himself to his teammates, then he was promoted to second string for a spell, and now he is back on the bench.

Saunders noted Avery performed well between Feb. 2 and Feb. 10, when the rookie was given extended playing time. The long-range sniper averaged 16.4 minutes and seven points.

"We played him a lot, and he played well," Saunders said. "He's in a situation where he doesn't have to produce. You don't have to let him play through his mistakes. It will be beneficial in the long run."

Avery will have to bide his time before taking Brandon's position. Brandon signed a six-year, $59 million contract before this season. He will be 36 when the pact concludes in 2005. Avery will be 26 but must exhibit command of the NBA game after his initial deal expires in 2003 if he is to assume the reins.

"It's good for me to be in a position to fight for minutes and improve," Avery said. "As (Brandon) gets older, he won't be able to play all those minutes. His job is to run the team and bring me along."

Minnesota's initial experiment with developing a traditional point guard failed. Stephon Marbury could not co-exist as second fiddle to Garnett.

Avery has built a career on working well with others. He and Moore shined at Westside. He blossomed along with Elton Brand, Corey Maggette and Shane Battier at Duke.

"I'd love to play here my whole career," Avery said. "Playing with guys like Kevin Garnett, Joe Smith, Wally and Anthony Peeler, it makes your job a lot easier. This is a team where the point guard has the ball 90 percent of the time."

Reach Jimmy DeButts at (706) 823-3221.