Former Illinois Basketball Standout Williams Arrested: Surprising, or Not?


Williams allegedly went from this...

by Paul Schmidt

The news came down with little fanfare, something that puzzled me greatly.  On top of all of that, very little has been written of what has to be considered a fairly bizarre story.

The headlines read: Hoops star Frank Williams, brother arrested: Drug agents seize marijuana, handgun.

Specifically, the agents seized 78 grams of marijuana (about 3 ounces, to the initiated), one .40 caliber handgun (unregistered) and a digital scale, which one can assume was used to weigh out the marijuana. Reportedly there were prescription drugs also in the home.

Frank Williams, and presumably his brother Aaron as well, were dealing drugs.  Allegedly.

To those comments, I have to ask, “Why?”

I know that we’ve come to expect less and less of our athletes in this culture, but this really surprised me. Maybe because I have interviewed Frank on two different occasions, I have a different opinion of him than most.  I’m not sure.

The majority of people that I know that are Illinois fans view Frank Williams as an cocky, overconfident athlete who never reached the potential that he could have had he been a more hard-working individual.  They point to his uneven junior season at Illinois, his poor performance with the New York Knicks, and, when the hometown Bulls rescued him and gave him a chance, the fact that he showed up overweight and out of shape.

I saw a young man who had the hopes of a basketball insane university heaped on his shoulders after winning the Big Ten Player of the Year and Chicago Tribune Silver Basketball in 2001 after his sophomore season.  I saw a young man who was starting to come into his own as an NBA point guard in the 03-04 season, who was pushed to the end of the bench when his team’s overmatched GM, Isaiah Thomas, made an unbelievably ill-advised trade to acquire Stephon Marbury.

And I saw a man who was still something of a kid, a little bit immature, but a little more unsure of just where he fit in to the scheme of things with the Bulls, especially personality-wise. I found it telling in the post-game locker room that not one player or coach said a single word to him at any point until we walked out of the room together.

When I spoke with him when he was with the Bulls, he admitted that he should have worked harder to be in shape for the Bulls but that he had learned his lesson.  He seemed surprisingly soft-spoken, almost shy, which was surprising because it certainly not what I’d expected or what I had heard about him while he was at Illinois.  It seemed as though maybe his experiences in New York Knicks had humbled him somewhat.

I spoke to Williams again after he had been injured, and he seemed determined to get healthy again.  Again, he could have been completely blowing smoke at me, but I didn’t really have a positive impression of the young man prior, so him convincing me wasn’t some incidence of hero worship – I was honestly surprised to see that he was so…quiet. this?

The overly-odd Williams mug shot.

This is why the story surprised me.  He was still playing basketball well – albeit in the NBA Developmental league (where he averaged 17 points and 3-plus assists per game). He was, at one point, the best player in the Big Ten.  He was a former first round draft pick, and at least signed a second contract (meaning he had made millions of dollars in the NBA already).

He should have been able to live comfortably with that kind of money.

Perhaps that is why he (allegedly) turned to dealing drugs, the constant need of this society to live to excess.  To always want more.  Perhaps that was how he would finally fit into society, to be a “baller”, so to speak.  To have more than everyone else. To win at the proverbial game of life by getting more stuff.

That’s merely speculation, though, me trying to make sense of how this young man went from millionaire to alleged small-time drug dealer.  It’s a story that doesn’t make sense, even if no one else is surprised.

I’m hoping, for Frank’s sake, that there is some sort of an explanation.

Given the way these things usually go, I’m not holding my breath.


  1. Paul Schmidt says

    I’m not even sure why this story makes me sad, but it does. Frankie never needed to do this. Or at least he shouldn’t have.

  2. Charley Davis says

    Since Frank Nitty was my favorite player while at U of I, I just find this incident to be very disheartening. While not likely, I hope this is a wrong place right time scenario.

  3. Paul Schmidt says

    I hope so too, Charley. The mug shot makes me a little nervous (Frank certainly has the crazy eyes going there, doesn’t he?), but I don’t know that his brother was that bad of a guy either from what I’ve heard. It’s just another part of this story that doesn’t make a ton of sense to me.

  4. Paul Schmidt says

    Paul, it probably shouldn’t, but it blows my mind how many athletes leave professional sports without any money. Frankie never seemed really dumb, though, so that’s another part that surprises me a little, because he should have had something to build off of once he left the League.

  5. paulmbanks says

    He really did seem very uneven in college, and the fact that he couldn’t his acto together in juco and with his act to be eligible is another example of his lakcing in worth ethic and bad prioritization- it also left us with walk-on nate mast at point guard in ’99. an experience more horrifying than listening to the band Smashmouth. Still, he should have gotten a E Trade account and financial planner from charles schwab or something in vest that money he made in the league instead of getting caught in this mess

  6. paulmbanks says

    There was an astros pitcher in the 70s…was an all-star..J.R. something? who ended up living under a bridge- literally. Talk about having it all and losing it all

  7. Paul Schmidt says

    J.R. Richard…he’s a minister now. He had a stroke before a game, if I remember correctly, and tried to come back and couldn’t pitch. HAd a couple bad business deals, then went bankrupt.

    Sort of the same thing, though I imagine that it was easier to go bankrupt as an athlete in the late 70s and early 80s than it would be now…even with inflation being what it is.

  8. Illinois Alum says

    Great article- I went to school with Frank and witnessed first hand the
    arrogant, cocky athlete side (I had a class with him, which he attended once,
    and asked me out). As much compassion as I have for everyone else, I never
    stopped to think about how much pressure Illinois really does put on the
    athletes. Sure, they have the best workout facilities, accommodations, and
    passing grades without even being present for classes… but the weight of
    the school’s reputation, ticket sales and fans is much higher than average.

    It’s nice to know that Frankie has a real side, and I commend you telling that
    instead of just writing how he messed up. He deserves better. and this is a
    well written and insightful article.

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