Posted on Thu, Dec. 19, 2002
Youth are served by Williams
11-year-old phenom's reach extends to inner city
BY MICHELLE KAUFMAN
Every now and then, in the insular spoiled-brat world of junior tennis, a genuinely well-rounded child comes along, a youth with vision far beyond the baselines. Rashaad Williams is one of those children.
The 11-year-old from West Palm Beach is one of the world's elite junior players -- he made it to the final of the Eddie Herr International last month and the second round of this week's Junior Orange Bowl Tournament. But perhaps more impressive is what Williams has done off the court.
Noting there were ''barely any black kids'' at junior tournaments when he started playing seriously three years ago, the then-9-year-old organized his first ''Rashaad's Summer Sizzle,'' a clinic to introduce tennis to inner-city children. His annual event grew to 400 children last summer, and Reebok, which equips Williams with clothing and shoes, kicked in free headbands, sweatbands and water bottles.
Williams, who stands barely five feet and weighs 85 pounds, demonstrated the basics of the game then lectured the childrenabout the ''coolness'' of tennis and the importance of hard work and good grades. Williams has been home-schooled since fourth grade, is an A-student and already studying algebra.
He loves basketball, particularly Allen Iverson, so much he wears his hair in cornrows and has ''Iverson'' inscribed on his tennis visor. But Williams' true idol is Arthur Ashe. Williams was still in diapers when Ashe died in 1993. He learned about the former tennis great and activist when Williams' mother, Kimberly, a schoolteacher, brought home an Ashe biography written for children. ''Once I read about him, I wanted to grow up and be like him,'' Williams said. ``My goal is to turn pro, be No. 1, win all the Grand Slams and get more black kids interested in the sport.''
When he mentioned that to an older Weston child a few years ago, the child scoffed and replied: ``You'll never be No. 1 because you're black.''
That comment continues to fuel him.
''It's OK to dream,'' he says.
Harold ''Mickey'' Williams, the child's father, also had sports dreams. The elder Williams, 6-foot-3, was a runner-up for Florida's 1986 Mr. Basketball as a senior at Gainesville's P.K. Young High. He was edged by Chris Corchiani of Hialeah-Miami Lakes. Williams signed with the University of Georgia, but his ACT score fell short.
''I didn't have anyone to push me,'' the elder Williams said, flinching with every shot his son missed in a 3-6, 6-7 loss to Australia's Andrew Thomas on Wednesday at Salvadore Park. ``My dad wasn't around, and my mom was busy raising four kids. That's why it's so important for me that Rashaad gets full support from me and my wife.''
Andy Brandi, Williams' coach, has been involved with tennis 45 years. He coached the University of Florida women for 17 years, and led them to four NCAA titles before. He says this child is special.
''His family is very committed to making him a good person, student and athlete,'' Brandi said. ``Tennis is just one piece of the puzzle. But there is no question he has amazing potential. He has incredible athletic talent and ability, great strength and quickness for a kid his age. And he loves competing. Our goal now is to work on fundamentals, give him a solid base, and we'll see where he is six or seven years from now. There is no crystal ball, but he looks like he's going to be special.''
The Junior Orange Bowl tournament, for Under-12 and Under-14 players, continues through Monday at the University of Miami, Biltmore Tennis Center, Salvadore Park and Tropical Park.