Lou Williams' journey to the North

Boomin' out in South Gwinnett like Lou Will

6 man like Lou Will, 2 girls and they get along like I'm ... (Louuuu)

Like I'm Lou Will, I just got the new deal

-- 6 Man by Drake

Louis Williams is enjoying a resurgence in his first season in Toronto and has put himself into consideration for the NBA Sixth Man of the Year award.

Finally healthy after recovering from a devastating ACL injury he suffered in January 2013, Williams, 28, is averaging a career-high 15.2 points per game and has quickly emerged as a fan favorite at Air Canada Centre.

"When I got traded to the Raptors," Williams told ESPN.com, "Kyle Lowry told me, 'We expect you to average 15 points a game off the bench.'

"And I said, 'Perfect, so you need me here.' And that made me feel wanted. So once he put that expectation on me, it just made everything fall into place."

"We have an identity, and I love it. It's perfect for my personality. I've always been the underdog, I've always been overlooked."
Lou Williams

Williams, who is in the final year of his contract, has been through a lot just to get to this point. His life was turned upside down when his father died of natural causes when he was 10 years old.

Things started to unravel. He was losing focus in school. His interest in sports began to wane. So his mother decided to move the family from Memphis to Atlanta.

"It was one of the best decisions she ever made," Williams said.

There, his high school basketball coach Roger Fleetwood became a mentor. Fleetwood would pick Williams up from his home to take him to school, and the two would discuss life and basketball.

"Everything he wanted to tell me, he would tell me in the car, and for whatever reason it just stuck," Williams said.

He blossomed from there.

Williams opened up and shared some great stories during a recent Q&A at the team hotel before the Toronto Raptors faced the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden:

ESPN.com: Let's start with something that definitely caught our attention. In December 2011, you were involved in an armed robbery attempt but miraculously found your way out of it. You told your story to the local press in Philadelphia, but some people didn't believe you. Let's allow you to set the record straight: What happened?

Lou Williams: It was our day off. I lived in Manayunk, but I was going to get my haircut in a rough part of town -- North Philly -- at my regular barbershop. After I got my haircut, I left the barbershop and headed home. I stopped at a light, and my friend was in the car behind me. He called me and asked if I was going home. I said, "Yeah." And he said, "All right, I'll turn around and see you later." I said, "Cool." So I watched him do a U-turn behind me and drive away.

I was sitting there at the light, playing with my phone, and then I heard somebody tap on my window. So I looked up and the guy had a gun out, so I rolled down the window. I don't know why I didn't just get out of the car, but for whatever reason, I rolled down the window. He was like, "Get out of the car!" And I looked at him, and he looked at me, and he said, "Lou?" And I said, "Yeah." And he was like, "I got too much love for you to rob you."

He told me, "Man, I just got out of jail. They gave me a bus token, and I don't have anything." And I'm thinking to myself, "So how the hell did you get a gun?" He was like, "I'm hurting." And I said, "Listen, man, I don't have any cash on me. But if you meet me right there at that McDonald's across the street, I'll buy you anything you want to eat." So he ran across the street to the McDonald's, and when he ran off, I called my friend and said, "Pull back up to the McDonald's." I went in, he ordered a bunch of stuff, I swiped my credit card, paid for it, and I said, "Good luck to you, man. But this isn't the way to do things." He was like, "Man, you're right."

I just paid for it, and I was like, "I'm leaving." And by this time my friend had just called me and was pulling back up to the McDonald's. So I'm like, "Yo, follow me home, I got something to tell you." I didn't stay there and wait. It was like a three-minute ordeal.

If people don't believe me, I can take you to the exact spot. I didn't have time to think. I don't know what made me even suggest the McDonald's. It was just instinct.

ESPN.com: What was it like being mentored by Kevin Ollie and even AI in Philly?

LW: It was like night and day. I got the best of both worlds. AI really didn't practice [Laughs.] He really didn't care to practice. But the flip side to that story was that he was always hurt, too; he was always banged up. As a young guy, I'd think, "So what?" Guys have knick-knack injuries every day. And now that I'm 10 years in and I'm looking at it, that means a lot when you're banged up and these games are coming. But I also had Kevin who would grab me after practice and say, "Let's get 15 minutes of cardio or let's play one-on-one or let's go to chapel." I had the best of both worlds. I had one guy who was super talented and went about his job in a business-like manner, and then I had another guy who wasn't as talented, knew he wasn't as talented and worked his ass off to be in the position he was in.

ESPN.com: You're a short guy (6-foot-1). How did you become such a great scorer?

LW: I could always score. And I didn't realize I was small until like two years ago. I thought I was pretty average height. And then it just clicked to me -- "Yo, you're undersized." I guess when I got older and my body started hurting, I'm like, "I'm not as big as I thought I was." So I always played with the mentality that I was bigger than I actually was.

ESPN.com: A lot of the shots you shoot are off-balance, fadeaways. What's up with that?

LW: I can't shoot straight-up. I've always played crooked. One of my coaches says I play backwards. I do everything backwards. I don't have coordination. It's weird to watch me play. ... It's just something I've developed over time, fading away from guys, using my size. I have bigger defenders on me, and it's just about creating space.

ESPN.com: How did you get comfortable coming off the bench?

LW: At first, it was about me trying to prove myself. I wanted to prove that I could be a starter. And then once I realized I was gonna be a sixth man and it wasn't gonna change, I just relished the role. I just said, "I'm going to make it really hard on whoever it is that has to guard me these next 10-11 minutes that I'm in here." And after a while you just create an identity.

ESPN.com: How do you know how you should play when you first check in?

LW: It's a read. Sometimes when you're down you tend to play faster and harder, and when you're up you tend to play smarter. I think that's one of the things about guys coming off the bench that's underappreciated. We have the opportunity to watch for 10-15 minutes to see how the game is going and what adjustments need to be made.

ESPN.com: What would it mean to you to win the Sixth Man of the Year award?

LW: Honestly, I wouldn't care, man. I probably shouldn't say that publicly. [Laughs] At this point in my career, though, it's more about the respect I get from my teammates than the attention and the awards and the pats on the back. I've always been a team guy. Some guys are comfortable with having 20 points a game and losing. If I score zero and we win, I have the same smile on my face -- and that's how I've always been wired. So I've never gone into a season thinking, "Let me win the Sixth Man of the Year." If it comes along, then that's fine.

ESPN.com: What first got you into basketball?

LW: I grew up in Memphis -- in the inner city. I was blessed to live in a neighborhood with a bunch of kids my age. Just like 15-20 of us. Whatever we could get our hands on that day, that's what we would play. If we could find a stick that we could turn into a bat and a tennis ball, we'd get some phone books [for bases] and we'd play baseball. If we could find a football, we'd play football. If the older kids would let us on the court, we would play basketball.

ESPN.com: When did you realize, "Hey, I'm pretty good at basketball"?

LW: My junior year [at South Gwinnett High School] was my turning point ... when I realized, you're pretty good. You're in the conversation with the rest of the guys that you look up to -- like Sebastian [Telfair], and at the time it was LeBron, Dwight Howard, Josh Smith. Josh and Dwight were local guys in the Atlanta area that I was looking at that were older, and I was in the conversation and I was competing against those guys and I was holding my own. I think that's when my light kinda clicked.

ESPN.com: You closed out your career as one of the all-time leading scorers in Georgia high school basketball history. You were named the Naismith Prep Player of the Year as a senior. Then you were thinking about attending Georgia. What made you decide to go straight to the NBA instead?

LW: Sebastian Telfair, to be honest with you. I'll never forget -- we were at USA [training] out in Colorado. And we were watching the [2004] draft. And at this time the only guys getting drafted out of high school were the 7-footers and LeBron James. So we're sitting there watching, and then Sebastian [5-foot-11] gets picked No. 13, and he's my size. So I was like, wait a minute? They're drafting guards out of high school. So me and Monta Ellis looked at each other. So I said, "I'm declaring, bro." And he said, "Me, too." And I think we both made our decision at that moment. We thought, if he has a chance, then he's a trailblazer for guys our size. And after that, going into my senior season, scouts just started coming to the high school, and it became a realistic thing.

ESPN.com: You were thinking you were going to get drafted, at worst, late in the first round, but you fell to Philadelphia in the second. Why do you think that happened?

LW: I wasn't prepared for my workouts. I was naive -- just being one of the best high school players, being a McDonald's All American -- just like, I must be [at least] halfway in the pack with the [college] NBA guys. And I was just naive to the process. I didn't take my training seriously. I didn't take my nutrition seriously. And it showed in my workouts.

But things work in mysterious ways. My agent at the time, Merle Scott, he represented Mo Cheeks in Philly. So once the second round started, Atlanta had the first pick. I was hoping to go home, but they drafted Salim Stoudamire. After that, I didn't know what was going to happen because I didn't work out for anybody past this point. But Merle represented Mo, and they had the 45th pick. So Merle called and said, "If you guys don't have any serious plans, I would draft this kid at 45." And so Billy King and Mo Cheeks took a chance on me, and it ended up working out. I spent seven years in Philly.

ESPN.com: Then you went home to Atlanta, signed there as a free agent and were hoping it would go really well. But it didn't. Why not?

LW: It was a disaster for me, man. I didn't have a bad experience in Atlanta. I just wish I hadn't gotten hurt. Once I got hurt it kinda just unraveled for me. Once you get to your hometown, you figure you're going to play there for a long time. You're gonna help your hometown do special things, and it just didn't work that way for me.

ESPN.com: What was it like when you tore your ACL on Jan. 18, 2013 in Brooklyn? You were on a fast break, came up lame and started heading down the tunnel behind the basket.

LW: It was rough. I had never had a major sports injury before, so when I felt that, I immediately knew it was serious. This is gonna be a process, whatever it is because I felt my knee pop three times -- pop, pop, pop -- and then it just came back to the middle, and I thought I had broke my leg. In this world we live in, my thought was get as far into the tunnel as you can so nobody can take pictures and put you on Instagram. Because that was right after Robert Griffin III they were putting him in a boxing ring. They were putting Pac in a boxing ring. And I thought, "They're not gonna do me like that." As serious as the situation was, as painful as it was, I just thought let me get as far into this tunnel as I can.

But it turned my whole world upside down. ...

It was an eye-opening experience for me. It changed a lot of my relationships. I didn't serve a purpose to people anymore. There's no tickets to the games, we're not going out to the club after the games, it's not glamorous. I'm walking around the house in a brace. People don't wanna be a part of that. So I realized who my real friends were, who my real circle was, people that supported me no matter what I went through. ...

And as crazy as it sounds, I wouldn't trade it for the world. I think it was necessary for it to happen for me. I appreciated the game so much more.

ESPN.com: You basically got traded to Toronto in a salary dump. What was that like?

I knew it was coming. I just knew my experience in Atlanta was coming to an end. It was either gonna be I was leaving after my contract was up or they were gonna trade me, and that's just how things were going.

We had a coaching change and I had missed the first [eight] games of that season, and the Hawks head coach Bud [Mike Budenholzer], he just was very honest and upfront with me and just said, "I've gotten more comfortable with this other guy and he's probably gonna play the minutes." I had to respect that because the coach has a job to do. He has to prepare for games and wait around wondering if I'm gonna be healthy enough to play tonight or do I need a day off and this and that.

ESPN.com: What were your initial thoughts on the trade?

LW: Initially, I was torn because I was leaving my hometown. But I was also excited because I had just watched these guys battle Brooklyn like hell in seven games [during the playoffs]. So I felt like I could help this team. I felt like I could help, and I could bring something to the table. They had a young core of guys, and it reminded me a lot of my Philly crews where we were turning that corner and going from an OK team to an elite team. This team was turning the corner with Kyle [Lowry], DeMar [DeRozan], JV [Jonas Valanciunas] and a lot of the pieces that they had.

ESPN.com: You're in the last year of your contract. Do you want to stay in Toronto?

Absolutely. I already tried to get them to go do it -- get an extension. But at this point in my career, I want to play somewhere where the fans appreciate you, your team is serious about winning and create something special. And these guys are bulldogs. They love competing. We have that us against the world mentality where nobody respects us because we're in Canada. We have an identity, and I love it.

It's perfect for my personality. I've always been the underdog, I've always been overlooked. I've always been the guy where it was like we'll see what he does and then we'll check on Lou. That's been my career.