GAZETTE FILE PHOTO Former University of Massachusetts players Raphiael Putney, left, and Chaz Williams, right, have started their quest to make it to the NBA.
On Monday morning before both embarked on significant days in their basketball careers, former UMass teammates Chaz Williams and Raphiael Putney talked over Facetime.
Later that day Williams worked out for the Boston Celtics and Putney for the Charlotte Hornets. Neither Minuteman is showing up on mock drafts, but these workouts with professional teams are a chance to improve their stock.
“We just talked about how the workouts are, how we’re staying in shape,” Putney said.
Williams has been an all-conference point guard and among the nation’s leaders in assists for the past three years. If Williams were 6-foot-1 or taller, getting drafted, at least in the second round, would be a near certainty. But there are doubts about whether he’s really even the 5-foot-9 height he’s listed at. Not many players make the NBA at that height.
Williams is used to being overlooked because of his lack of stature. His height made people question him in high school and in college, but he became a star at both levels. He doesn’t see any reason not to bet on himself again.
“It’s nothing new. I’ve always had to prove people wrong. But it’s not about proving people wrong, it’s about proving myself right,” Williams said. “I’ve always been the type of person to work hard for everything. If I’m given a shot, I’ll be able to prove myself.”
Williams said he thinks he’s improved his stock.
“It’s been great. I’ve been getting a lot of great feedback,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been impressing a lot of people. I feel like they’re getting a better idea of who I am as a person and as a basketball player. At these workouts I’ve showed a lot of coaches a lot of different things about me that they haven’t known. I feel like it’s helping me in a lot of ways.”
Williams draws inspiration from Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who at 5-foot-9 was the last player chosen in the 2011 draft. Thomas matured into a starter as a rookie and in 2013-14 averaged 34.7 minutes per game. Thomas, like Williams, is represented by the ASM Sports.
“I’ve had conversations with Isaiah Thomas about how he made it. He was the 60th pick in the draft,” Williams said. “We’re the same height. Knowing his story is a true blessing. A team gave him an opportunity and he made them a believer. That’s what I’m trying to do if they give me a chance.”
Williams has worked out for Minnesota, Boston and Toronto with workouts scheduled with Golden State, Milwaukee and Cleveland. He’s working out dates with some other teams as well in advance of the June 26th draft.
Williams considered leaving UMass after his junior year to pursue a professional offer in Turkey. While he said he’d go overseas if he didn’t get an NBA chance, he believes it won’t come to that.
“People talk to me about overseas, but that’s never been on my agenda. My grandmother can’t watch me play overseas. That’s never been a goal of mine. If it doesn’t work out with the NBA, then that’s what it will be, but my goal is to make it to the NBA,” said Williams, who’d look to sign as a free agent if he wasn’t selected in the draft.
“But right now I’m focused on getting drafted,” he added. “The percentage is pretty high at the moment. I’m going into a lot of these workouts with a lot of good competition with guys projected to go high. It’s a good opportunity for me to improve and show the scouts and these teams that I can play and I can compete with these guys. Even though I’m short, I can make up in different ways.”
Williams said he keeps hoping he’ll work out with teams on the same day higher profile point guards are there.
“I always want to play against somebody projected to go higher than me. I wish I could be matched up with Marcus Smart or Tyler Ennis and those guys to show I can compete with them” he said. “But I’m just taking what I’m given and thankful for the opportunity. I’m just trying to make them all believe. I’m trying to leave no doubts in any coach or GM’s head why they shouldn’t draft me or sign me as a free agent. I just need one team to fall in love with me and feel great and proud to have me. I’ll make it all work. I’ll give them everything they bargained for. I’m a player that tries to win and brings a winning spirit.”
While Williams is on teams’ radar. Putney’s challenge is more to make teams aware of him. While Putney doesn’t have Williams’ statistical numbers, his athleticism could intrigue some teams.
“Getting these workouts is important for me,” he said. “I don’t really have a name out there for myself. Not a lot of cats know me.”
Putney, who is expected to work out for Washington and Oklahoma City, thought the Charlotte workout went well.
“It went pretty good,” he said. “They were really impressed that I could handle the basketball and shoot the ball well.”
He’s hoping his 6-foot-9 frame, freakish leaping and ability to play defense will help his cause.
“I can guard different positions, the one through the four, at my length. I can disrupt different people,” Putney said. “On the offensive end, I’m a mismatch because I can handle the ball and do things off the pick and roll. I’m looking to get on a summer league team to show my talent that way. ”
Putney is hoping for a shot, but he also has a backup plan. He spent part of the summer last year playing for an Athletes in Action team that competed in Spain and the Canary Islands. He’s already received some interest from first division teams in Greece, France, Russia and Turkey and would prefer that to playing in the NBA Developmental League, which pays much less than good Euroleague teams.
“I have plenty more opportunities overseas. I’m trying to make a good amount of money. I’d rather go play overseas. I like to travel,” Putney said. “I enjoyed playing in Spain last summer a lot. It was a wonderful experience. My first dream is to play in the NBA, but if it doesn’t come right out of college, I’m not discouraged.”
Either way he’s eager to be a professional basketball player.
“I’ve been working hard all my life. This is what I’ve been preparing for. I feel like I’m ready for this,” Putney said. “I’m trying to do everything I can, trying to get as many looks as possible, trying my name out there. Hopefully I’ll get on a good summer league team and they’ll like me.”