A sort of homecoming

What's the old joke about mixed emotions? It's like having your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your brand-new Mercedes, right? Well, Jamaal Williams isn't married, not yet. But that doesn't mean he didn't have just a twinge of ambivalence when it was announced Washington would be playing in the Albuquerque region of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament. You see, Williams and Albuquerque have some history.

"I was a little excited to get back out there to play in front of all the fans that saw me begin my college career," Williams said Monday in Seattle just moments before he set out for Albuquerque with coaches, teammates and staff. The Huskies are set to play the Louisville Cardinals Thursday. For those that don't know about Jamaal's college history up to the point when he enrolled at Montlake two years ago, here's a quick refresher course.

Williams, from Corona (Calif.) Centennial, signed with New Mexico out of high school, only to see the coach he signed with - Fran Fraschilla - fired after only his first season. And at that point, Jamaal thought he was done in Albuquerque as well.

"I was a young 18-year old kid, fresh in college," said Williams. "Now all of a sudden the guy I committed to got fired."

If you look back even further into Williams' decision to attend New Mexico in the first place, there was one other school he was very interested in attending - St. Louis. The reason? Lorenzo Romar. "I had the opportunity to meet him early on in my life," said Jamaal, mentioning some church clinics Romar organized that he attended as early as the 8th grade. He saw Romar as someone he wanted to play for.

Only one thing stood in the way. "I wanted to play for him, but St. Louis was a little too cold for me," said Williams, sheepishly. So New Mexico it was, at least for one year. After Fraschilla was let go, Williams wanted to transfer to Washington - the school Romar had just accepted a head coaching job at - after his first year, but the timing wasn't right. "Coach Romar advised me to stay (at New Mexico). He is good friends with Coach (Ritchie) McKay and he thought it would work out."

Citing personality conflicts and conflicts in playing style, Williams definitely knew he wasn't long for Lobo Nation. And the UNM fans - known far and wide for their passion for New Mexico basketball - let him know about it. "Chad Bell left too and Mike McCowan left earlier that same year," Jamaal said. "I think they felt that I betrayed them a little bit.

"I've heard he (McKay) has asked my coaches about me to see how I was doing, but I haven't kept in contact with anybody else but Mark Walters."

Ritchie will be happy to know that Williams has found a style and a system that fits his abilities. He'll also be happy to know that he's first off the bench in Washington's rotation with future NBA'er Brandon Roy in his first year since transfering.

"When he plays well, it makes it even tougher to lose," senior guard Will Conroy said of Williams. "Once he gets rolling, he just adds another dimension to us."

"He's had a great attitude and has worked hard for us," added UW Head Coach Lorenzo Romar. "He's been as much of a team guy as anybody. His attitude has been that of a team player. And he'll graduate next year (with a degree in political communication). He's done everything we've asked of him."

"When I transfered, all the things the team is doing now? That's what I envisioned," added Williams. "For all of this to be going on, for us to win a Pac-10 championship - it doesn't get any better than this. And I have one more year after this to try and do it again."

But it's that same kind of success that has Jamaal heading to Albuquerque this week with some trepidation. But he's not going in with his eyes closed. "I expect to get booed a little bit," he said. "I don't know how much, but I will expect a couple of boos. I think it's going to be 50/50. Some people weren't happy when I decided and some people supported my decision.

"But it's the best decision I've ever made in my life. I get a chance to go back there and play two games to get to the Final Four. To have those fans see me succeed would be great, it would be very satisfying."

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