Williams was always the odd man out

Utah Jazz point guard Deron Williams didn't need an All-Star Game appearance to be considered an elite player.

This is a guy who annually ranks among the NBA's assists leaders while averaging almost 20 points per game for a playoff team. His statistics compare favorably with John Stockton's at the same point of their careers. He's earned an Olympic gold medal.

"Actually, to me, he's probably the best point guard in the league right now," Dallas Mavericks forward Dirk Nowitzki said. "I'd actually take him over [Chris] Paul and the rest of them because he's a big guard who can do it all."

But Williams has never played in an All-Star Game. He's had a legitimate chance the past three seasons, but he always was the odd man out with the Western Conference's glut of great guards.

"There definitely was a little frustration because I felt like I had been an All-Star a couple years," said Williams, who was also passed over twice as an injury replacement. "Last year, I was hurt and missed a lot of games, so it was understandable. And our team wasn't always at the top of the conference come All-Star break. That's another reason. Teams are playing better and guys had some good stats and been in the league longer. They're probably going to get the nod over me."

Not this season. Williams will make his All-Star debut Sunday at Cowboys Stadium, a short drive from his hometown of The Colony.

Added Tommy Thomas, who coached Williams in high school and now serves as the vice president of the firm that represents the point guard: "Overdue? Sure. I would think anybody would know that he's certainly played like an All-Star for far more than this season."

Williams is used to waiting for individual accolades, some of which never came.

He was overshadowed at The Colony High by shooting guard Bracey Wright. It was Wright, not Williams, who made the McDonald's All-American Game. Several of the A-list college coaches who visited campus didn't even ask about Williams, a slight that motivated the point guard to keep working on his game.

At Illinois, Luther Head and Dee Brown received more honors than Williams. However, Williams' NBA stock was by far the highest of the three guards. He was the lone lottery pick of the trio: The Jazz selected him third overall in 2005, one pick ahead of Paul.

In Utah, Williams has helped power forward Carlos Boozer and center Mehmet Okur earn All-Star invitations while waiting for one of his own.

"He's always been a team guy," Thomas said. "He's always been able to make the guys around him better. That's become a pride thing for him."

Williams' All-Star wait doesn't seem so long when compared to one of his mentors, former Mavericks guard Derek Harper, whose name comes up early in debates about the best NBA players to have never been All-Stars.

Williams met Harper in middle school. He was friends with Harper's son, Darius, and played on a summer team coached by the NBA veteran.

Harper had a feeling Williams could develop into a special player back then. He loved the kid's competitiveness, confidence and work ethic. Harper recalled one afternoon at his house a few years later when Williams challenged him on the backyard court.

"The thing I saw more than anything was that he was so eager to not only learn, but to apply it and get better," said Harper, who now works as a studio analyst on Mavericks broadcasts. "He was a gym rat."

Harper worked out Williams before the draft and knew then that the kid from The Colony had a bright NBA future.

Williams, however, didn't enjoy NBA success immediately. He struggled as a rookie, when Jazz coach Jerry Sloan was stingy with playing time for the point guard. Williams had to earn his coach's trust, a challenge that he accepted.

Four years later, Sloan raves about how rare it is for a player Williams' age to have such a remarkable feel for the game.

"He gave Deron the keys to the car," Harper said. "That says a lot, especially with Jerry Sloan."

Williams has become the Jazz's unquestioned leader, carrying on the legacy created by Stockton, whose statue is outside the team's arena along with one of Karl Malone. Williams is the one who has willed the Jazz, the West's hottest team, to win after win while Boozer battled injuries.

"He's come to the point where he's ready to go, all the time, every night," said Jazz swingman C.J. Miles, who broke into the league with Williams after declaring for the draft out of Dallas' Skyline High. "We follow that."

Tim MacMahon covers the Mavericks for ESPN Dallas. You can follow him on Twitter or leave a question for his weekly mailbag.