ORLANDO, Fla. For many of the players here, summer league games offer up a first taste of what professional basketball will be like.
And then there are players like the Sean Williams who come in having participated in the summer league circuit . . . a lot.
"This is like my fourth summer league," he said.
Williams' talent alone should exempt him from having to participate. But the NBA isn't just about having the most talented basketball players.
Often it's how those talents are used -- and misused -- that determines a player's status and NBA longevity.
Williams will be the first to tell you that he hasn't utilized his talents as well as he should. He'll tell you that he's made mistakes both in college and since coming into the NBA that have had a negative impact on his career in so many ways.
But that appears to be a thing of the past now as Williams continues to pump life into a once-fledgling NBA career that's starting to turn around for the better since he joined the C's in March. While his contract for this upcoming season has not been guaranteed yet, Williams continues to produce in a way that gives Boston little reason to look elsewhere as they try to add more depth for the upcoming 2012-2013 season.
"I think he's grown up," said C's coach Doc Rivers. "That's why we give everybody a chance. I get coaches calling me about other guys all the time. I don't give a bleep about that. I'll give him a shot. If he burns you, you let him go."
The C's have shown no signs of wanting to do that.
And Williams, a former first-round pick out of Boston College, has no desire to leave.
But he understands that at the end of the day, this is a business and regardless of how well he does in summer league, there's no guarantee that he'll be back next season.
That, he says, is the beauty of Orlando's summer league.
"For a player like me, it's the only time yo come into a gym and there's only GMs, head coaches, team personnel here," Williams said. "Players get a sense of the evaluation that's going on here. You're trying to show that you can learn on the fly and adapt. What coaches give you in a couple of days, is what summer league is about. Players come out here, show you can adapt and come out here and do what you do."
Although he played fewer minutes (just over 14) than any other starter for the Celtics on Monday, there was no mistaking his impact on the game, altering shots, getting a deflection or rebounding the basketball.
Those are are high-energy, effort plays that speak to what Williams' strengths are as an NBA player.
"He's not skilled offensively much at all," Rivers said. "But he has a chance to be a shut-down defender, a shot blocker, a guy that you can bring in and change the tempo of the game. He rebounds the ball. He has that skill set in him. He has to marry himself to that."
Williams appears willing to do that, proving once again how much he has matured in comparison to his college days and early on in his NBA career.
"I think we forget many of these guys make mistakes at 22 and 23," Rivers said. "I'd like to see all of us at that age with the fame . . . it's not that easy. But it looks like he's grown."
One of Williams' former teammates in Boston and New Jersey, Keyon Dooling, spoke glowingly about the importance of younger players like Williams being open-minded enough to embrace the teachings of a veteran team like the Celtics.
"You want to pour into the young guys," Dooling said. "You want them to know that this is an NBA brotherhood. We have a sense of responsibility for each other. Right now, you may be following. But there's going to be a time when we're not here and you're going to be a leader. You're gonna have to pool these lessons you're learning here right now, and apply them to where you are in the future. You want to teach these young guys how to be leaders, how to be model citizens, how to be family men, how to dig deep, play hard, how to play through injuries, how to do all those things. It's a blueprint for success."
It's one that Williams is indeed subscribing to, which is why he has not hesitated to assist the Celtics two rookie big men, Jared Sullinger and Fab Melo, with whatever questions they might have.
"I'm learning from them, too," Williams said. "We're all pushing one another, trying to get better everyday. That's what we all want, both individually and as a team."
Williams added, "everyday is a learning experience for everybody out here."