"I grew up watching Georgetown basketball," Jerome Williams once told the Chicago Tribune. "I used to always love their press and how hard they played on defense."
In 1992, however, he was an undersized 6-2 forward from Magruder HS who was too small to play forward at Georgetown. Williams appeared headed for American University but opted to go to junior college instead and work on his game.
Two years later, thanks to a growth spurt, Georgetown was very interested. Williams had grown to 6-9, averaging 26 points and 17 rebounds a game at Montgomery College. "When I got [to Georgetown]," he said, "I already knew what I was going to be asked to do."
From 1994 to 1996, Jerome Williams became one of the program's most proficient rebounders. Once described as "Dennis Rodman without the attitude", Williams helped elevate the Georgetown defense during the Allen Iverson era. In his first five games with the team, Williams picked up 65 rebounds, part of a junior season where he averaged 31 minutes a game and 10 rebounds a game. At season's end he became the first forward since Reggie Williams (no relation) to lead the team in rebounds.
Even though Jerome Williams was a second, third, or even fourth scoring option in the Iverson era, many of his rebounding stats still remain notable a decade later: 15 points and 17 rebounds versus DePaul, 17 and 15 versus Pitt, 11 and 14 versus Connecticut. In two games to end the regular season, he scored a combined 47 points and 28 rebounds against Seton Hall and St. John's. Despite his tenacious defensive skills, Williams averaged only 2.08 fouls per game for his career, and did not foul out of a single game as a Hoya.
For his senior season, the starting five of Williams, Othella Harrington, Boubacar Aw, Victor Page, and Allen Iverson turned in some of the most entertaining games in years. Averaging 10 points and 8.8 rebounds in 1995-96, Williams shot 59% from the field and was second to Iverson in team steals, a tribute to his hustle and team effort. His 54% career field goal shooting mark ranks 11th all time for Georgetown scorers.
"After graduation I had a job with an accounting firm, because I didn't know if I'd be drafted or not, and I planned on going back to school to get an accounting degree if I wasn't [drafted]," Williams told the Michigan Daily. Instead, Williams had an NBA career ahead of him.
The 26th pick of the 1996 draft, he began a successful run that saw him collect over 3,700 rebounds in nine NBA seasons across four teams, despite averaging only 21 minutes per game. Perhaps even more notable was the interest Williams took in community relations in these various NBA cities.
"I was a sociology major, and while at Georgetown, I interned at the [DC] community relations commission where you do a lot of community work," Williams said. "Once I graduated and got in the NBA, I had a lot of time on my hands in the off season, so I put my degree to work, basically. I learned that the little things you can do go a long way with the community."
Adopting the "JYD" nickname (a nod to Sylvester "Junk Yard Dog" Ritter, a professional wrestler whom Williams watched on TV as a kid), Williams referred to his fans as the "Dog Pound", and incorporated the JYD trademark into the communities that he played for. In Detroit, Williams worked in establishing youth groups and creating affordable housing options for working class families. With his brother, he founded "Positive Shades of Black", an education incentive program for elementary school students. After five seasons in Detroit, Williams was traded to Toronto, where he began a new relationship with fans in Canada. The "JYD Project" and various youth programs in Toronto made him a fan favorite, even after being traded to Chicago and eventually to New York.
Jerome played only one season in New York, and was waived not for poor play, but in order for the Knicks to avoid a luxury tax on its salaries. With the decision, the 31 year old Williams opted to retire rather than seek a new team. He later re-joined the Toronto Raptors in its front office, continuing community based programs and participating in international outreach for the NBA, including the successful "Basketball Without Borders" project.
The college experience was invaluable for Jerome Williams, who called his Georgetown graduation the proudest moment of his life. In the intervening years, he has been a visible example of the importance of education and community involvement, taking on initiatives with much the same passion that drove him in two years of basketball at Georgetown.