Big Nasty faces Sixers challenge

MORRIS DALLA COSTA -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:05 AM ET

You have to feel for Corliss Williamson.

Here's a guy who is the epitome of the professional basketball player. Williamson, six-foot-seven and 240 pounds, is a 10-year National Basketball Association veteran. He has been through the basketball wars, playing for the Sacramento Kings, Toronto Raptors and Detroit Pistons.

Last year, he reached the basketball holy land, winning an improbable championship with the Pistons when they demolished the Los Angeles Lakers.

But nirvana didn't last long. Late this summer, he was traded to the Philadelphia 76ers for Derrick Coleman and Amal McCaskill. The 76ers missed the playoffs last season. Outside of Allen Iverson, Glenn Robinson and Williamson, Canadian basketball fans would be hard-pressed to put face to names.

Londoners will get a chance to see them close up Oct. 17 at 1 p.m. when the 76ers come to the John Labatt Centre to play the Toronto Raptors. The hope is the Raptors will still have Vince Carter in their lineup despite the full-blown trade rumours.

Williamson tries to put a positive spin on the trade that sent him to Philadelphia. Not many people believed at the start of last season that the Pistons would be able to ride a dominant defence to an NBA title. That was a surprise.

It would be a far greater surprise if Philadelphia was a significant player in the Eastern Conference.

But a healthy Iverson with a new attitude will help and so will Williamson, a small forward who knows how to play inside.

It's one reason he's called the Big Nasty.

"That name's been with me since I was 13," Williamson said. "I like it because it's the way I play."

Robinson, Iverson, Williamson and Kenny Thomas are all double-figure scorers and Aaron McKie is an underrated player. If anything, the 76ers should be more balanced.

"Any time you leave a championship team, it's not the type of thing you want to do," Williamson said. "But I look at this as a great opportunity to come in and help a team get better and make the playoffs. I look forward to working towards that.

"It's a good thing knowing a team wants you and they are willing to do what it takes to get you into their organization. It says a lot about them about how much they wanted me to be here."

Williamson believes the 76ers can make the playoffs. They just missed last year when they ran into a string of injuries. They relied a great deal on perimeter play. Without an inside scoring threat the 76ers often lived and died by the outside shot.

"In order to open up the outside game, to make that happen you need to have an inside presence, a post presence and that's the type of player I am," said Williamson. "I have the ability to get on the post and score the basketball down there. That in turn will help open the outside up."

But . . .

"It's not just talent. You can have the most talent in the world and might not win any games," Williamson said. "You have to have the desire to win. Whether that means sacrificing some of your talent to let someone else's talent take over for the betterment of the team. That's what going to help you win."

"He has a warrior's mentality and he's a leader. This is an important trade for us," Jim O'Brien, coach of the Sixers, has been quoted as saying.

Even though Williamson knows it's time to move forward, it's difficult not to look back on a championship season. Once the Lakers won the Western Conference title most people believed the Eastern Conference would fold in front of the more powerful Western Conference teams as they have for so many years.

Instead the Pistons embarrassed the Lakers.

"Wow. It was a great experience," he said. "To be in this league for nine years, to work really hard and be on several teams and finally reach the pinnacle of your profession, it was a great feeling. It's always satisfying when you prove your critics wrong."

Despite playing in Toronto, Williamson isn't familiar with London. Not that it matters. Basketball is basketball.

"I loved playing basketball in Canada," Williamson said. "The fans knew and understood the game of basketball and respected the game."

TORONTO RAPTORS VS. PHILADELPHIA 76ERS

When: Sunday, Oct. 17, 1 p.m.

Where: John Labatt Centre

Tickets: About 1,500 left; courtside seats sold out; call Ticketmaster 488-1012 or sold at Gate 1 of the JLC; for more information, call the box office at 432-8894.


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