ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — The basketball journey that started in his home in California and took a four-year detour through Albuquerque to play for the University of New Mexico Lobos will now take Kendall Williams to Italy.
Williams this week signed a one-year contract to play for Vuelle Basket Pesaro, a professional basketball team in the Italian A League.
“I don’t know much about Italy,” Williams acknowledged, “but I’ve heard nothing but good things. I’ve got to brush up on my Italian, for sure.”
The four-year starter for the Lobos, who ended his college career as the all-time assists leader in Mountain West Conference history, didn’t want to disclose how much money he would be getting paid this coming season, only saying the team “offered me a good deal and a good situation. It was tough to pass up.”
The team’s page on EuroBasket.com already lists Williams as a projected starter, something he’s not willing to lay claim to just yet. But he realizes the opportunity to do that is a big reason he chose this path.
“From what they’ve told me, they need a point guard to lead their team,” Williams said. “It seems to me I’m going to have the opportunity to earn good minutes – if not the starting spot. I feel like I can help the team win.”
Williams said his end goal is still the same as it’s always been: He wants to play in the NBA. The path to get there, he has decided, is best through going up against high-level competition overseas rather than stay in the United States for the coming year trying to navigate his way through the NBA Development League, which traditionally pays significantly less than top players in the Italian A League.
Williams, who finished in the top five in UNM history in scoring, assists and steals, played earlier this month in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, Nev., for the Chicago Bulls. He enjoyed the chance to play with former Lobo teammates Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow, both now under contract with the Bulls.
But the minutes for Williams were sporadic, and he never felt like he was given a full opportunity to display his skills enough to leave an impression on the Bulls or front-office executives from other NBA teams watching.
Williams averaged 2.0 points, 1.0 steals and 12 minutes per game in Summer League action.
“The opportunity in terms of basketball wasn’t the greatest for me, but the organization – the Chicago Bulls – the way they carry themselves and with it being my first time in a professional environment, I took it all as an opportunity, as another opportunity for me to grow.”
He said he plans to leave for Italy in late August, and the season starts in October.
“I feel like I’ve got a good feel for the team I’m going to, and the opportunity is real good,” Williams said. “I’m excited about it.”