“My Auntie’s barbecue,” says Williams.
But as his Auntie fires up the grill in Starkville, Mississippi, Latavious is playing power forward for Joventut Badalona of the Spanish League. When his two cousins visit later this month, odds are they won’t be sneaking any ribs through customs, either.
The 6-foot-8 Williams, who says he lost a ton of weight upon his arrival in Spain, says he knows his way around town now, so his cousins shouldn’t go hungry. He’s even latched onto a go-to restaurant just a few miles south of Badalona.
“In Barcelona, there’s a Hard Rock Café,” says Williams. “When I want to go out, I go out there.”
Though his preference in cuisine may strike you as stereotypically American, the rest of his career has been anything but.
A highly-ranked power forward out of Starkville High School and the Christian Life Center Academy in Texas (Williams did his postgraduate year there), Williams verbally committed to Josh Pastner and the Memphis Tigers in 2009. Williams was Pastner’s first recruit after the young coach had taken the reins from a Kentucky-bound John Calipari, but Williams would never actually play a game for Memphis’ new boss.
The NCAA had some issues with his transcript, and he says they informed him he would have to sit out the first part of his freshman year.
Instead of jumping through the NCAA’s hoops and risking further complications, Williams hatched an idea: he would turn pro. He told his parents, who in turn told Latavious it was his choice to make.
“They’re not going to make decisions for me. Because at the end of the day if I don’t like [where I end up], I’m going to be mad at them,” says Williams.
Since he hadn’t spent the requisite one year away from high school, the NBA Draft was out of the question. That was fine by Williams, who says he wasn’t ready to make that leap.
“In high school it was up and down. A pull-up jump shot, or just a little hook shot to the goal or an alley-oop,” says Williams. “I needed to learn more.”
His first lesson: sacrifice.
Instead of flying to China, where he says he was receiving contract offers for around $100,000, he opted to stay closer to home and within earshot of his NBA dream. He entered the D-League draft, the first ever high schooler to do so, and the Tulsa 66ers nabbed him with the 16th pick.
His deal with the 66ers was for around $20,000, roughly a fifth of what the Chinese teams were rumored to be offering.
An 18-year-old turning down eight bucks is newsworthy, but leaving $80,000 on the table? It’s downright batty. But Williams was not so much off his rocker as he was on a mission.
“At that time, it wasn’t about going to make the money. It was about making it to the NBA,” says Williams.
“It was hard. It was real hard,” says Williams of his first year as a pro in Tulsa.
He had never played so many games before, nor had he ever been responsible for knowing so many plays. At Starkville High it had been Give it to Latavious and get out of the way. Not so in Tulsa, where he had to show up early to practice and stay late just to digest all the various sets the 66ers would run.
“My first year I was kind of slow. I was moving slow,” admits Williams. “But as the season went on I started playing great.”
Good enough, at least, for the Miami Heat to select him with the 48th pick of the 2010 NBA Draft. That same night, the Heat traded his rights to the Tulsa 66ers’ NBA affiliate, the Oklahoma City Thunder.
“Then the next season came, I just ran through it. It was easy for me,” says Williams.
The stats back up his claims: after averaging 7.8 ppg and 7.7 rpg as a D-League rookie, he netted 13.2 and 8.6 in his second season as a 66er.
After that, Latavious had his offseason all planned out: Summer League, training camp, then a spot on somebody’s NBA team.
Then the lockout happened. Williams could have re-upped with Tulsa, but with the season in doubt, he didn’t see the point.
“Playing for the D-League, it would have been for no reason, because nobody knew how long the lockout would last,” Williams says.
So Williams did what other stranded pros were doing, and he stole away to the shores of Europe. Still, for a player who had only registered minutes as a D-Leaguer—no college, no NBA, no international experience to speak of—landing a deal with a talent factory as renowned as Joventut was remarkable.
That green jersey you see Ricky Rubio wearing in old pictures? That’d be Joventut’s. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find images of Rudy Fernandez wearing the same.
For Joventut to even tender an offer is, in itself, a ringing endorsement for Williams’ potential, and he hasn’t let them down thus far.
He requested a house within walking distance from the stadium so he could lift, train and get shots up without the hassle of an automobile (which the team provides for him anyways), and the extra work has paid off.
Through 19 games in the world’s second best league, Williams is averaging 9.3 ppg and 6.7 boards per game. His 3.2 offensive boards per game is good for second in the ACB, behind only MVP frontrunner Kaloyan Ivanov of Alicante, and six of Latavious’ double-figure scoring outputs have come in the last eight games.
It’s a good sign for a team that currently sits three games out of a playoff spot in the rough and humbling ACB, and it should be just as encouraging for Oklahoma City fans who want to see the Mississippi big man in Thunder blue next season.
People often argue over the merits of playing in the D-League versus camping out in Europe while you wait on that NBA deal. Having played in both, Williams isn’t interested in crowning a victor.
“Going to the D-League, I learned a lot. A whole lot. Just like here. I came over here and I learned a lot and I played against better competition,” Williams says with a half shrug.
“I know what it’s like to play over here, and I know what it’s like to play in the states. So I can put both in my game.”
Asked what advice he would offer a high school senior struggling with a College vs. Europe vs. D-League vs. China decision of his own, Williams is at a loss.
“I wouldn’t tell him too much,” Williams says. “Just like my Momma didn’t want to do to me, I wouldn’t want to do to him.”
“Everyone makes their own decisions.”
Latavious Williams made The Big One, and several smaller ones thereafter, and he says he doesn’t regret any of them.
Because right or wrong, he made them with a dream in mind.
“I just gotta keep working hard,” Williams says. “I know I’ll get there someday.”