Former Gophers guard Ray Williams, who spent most of his 10-season NBA career with the New York Knicks, died Friday, March 22, at age 58 after suffering from colon cancer.
Williams, a Mount Vernon, N.Y., native, had been receiving treatment at Manhattan's Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. He died at his sister-in law's home in New York on Friday morning, former Gophers coach Jim Dutcher said.
Dutcher spoke Friday with Williams' wife, Linda, about the cancer, which had spread to Williams' spine and liver. Williams was very weak at the end, but they had a "nice talk" Tuesday, Dutcher said.
Dutcher also reminisced about Williams on Friday with two of the player's former Gophers teammates, Osborne Lockhart and Flip Saunders.
"He was not in good shape the last few weeks," Dutcher said. "They (flew) him from Florida back to Manhattan. He was in the hospital until earlier this week. Then they took him out."
According to the New York Post, Knicks owner James Dolan paid for Williams to be taken from Florida to be treated at the Manhattan hospital.
The 6-foot-3 Williams averaged 18.9 points, 6.6 rebounds and a school-record 5.7 assists in his two-season University of Minnesota career (1975-77). The Knicks chose him 10th overall in the NBA draft in 1977. He averaged 15.5 points and 5.8 assists during his NBA career before retiring in 1987.
"He was such a great athlete -- strong with a great jumper," Dutcher said. "He had outstanding quickness and vision on the
court. You ask people who played with Ray in college or in the pros, they'll tell you he's as good an athlete as they ever saw. The guys who played with him would tell you that he was a great teammate, too."
Saunders described Williams as "pound for pound the best player to play" for the Gophers during his time. That's high praise, considering it was the golden era of "Big Man U" with Mychal Thompson and Kevin McHale.
"At 6-3, he could play any position," Saunders said. "He led us in assists. He could carry the game scoring-wise. He could create his own shot. He was our second- or third-best rebounder. He had such great competitiveness."
After playing in the NBA, Williams fell on hard times financially. He filed for bankruptcy and lost his wife and children. He became homeless.
A few years ago, Dutcher said, the former Gophers coach helped some of Williams' friends get Williams a job in Mount Vernon for the city's recreation department. Williams had to quit working after he was diagnosed with colon cancer and had surgery, according to Dutcher.
"He and his wife went back down to Florida," Dutcher said, "but that's when the cancer just spread."
Saunders said he last talked to Williams a week ago. He thought his old teammate had a lot of "enthusiasm in his voice."
"He never really looked at things in a negative way," Saunders said. "He was a proud individual. He wanted to do things on his own. He never had any regrets. That's how he lived his life."
(c)2013 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.)
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