The most interesting ex-UK basketball player is not in the NBA | Eurasia Diary -

23 March, Saturday

The most interesting ex-UK basketball player is not in the NBA

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It is an article of faith for many Kentuckians that being an ex-University of Kentucky men’s basketball player opens vocational doors.
In the world of folk art that LaVon Williams wanted to enter after his playing days, doors were not opening due to his Wildcats hoops past.
“(Basketball) just doesn’t apply in that world,” Williams said. “Those guys, they don’t sit around and talk about sports. They just don’t. And the ladies that buy the work, they are not sports people at all.”
For my money, there is no ex-UK basketball player who has had a more interesting post-hoops professional life than Williams, a contributing sophomore reserve on Kentucky’s 1978 NCAA championship team and then a two-year starter for Coach Joe B. Hall
The ex-UK forward has had a long career as an artist, known primarily for his distinctive wood sculpture. In recognition of Williams’ achievements, the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences will induct him into its Hall of Fame on Friday.
With creative people, two questions always intrigue me: 1.) How did they first realize they had a gift? 2.) Literally, how do they do their work?
Williams spent the first 10 years of his life in Lakeland, Fla., surrounded by a family of creators. His grandmother, Nealy Williams, taught him to sew. A great-uncle, Luke Wright, and an older brother, Dave Wright, introduced him to wood carving.
“I was constantly around people who could make things,” Williams says. “Quilts. People who could make their own clothes. My brother was a wood carver. Ever since I was little, I knew I liked to create things. I always liked to make things, see things made.”
he first things Williams made himself were toy cowboys and superheroes he created as a child.
“I’m probably around 8, 9, 10 years old,” Williams said. “We lived around an area where they had a lot of construction sites. I used to get the wire a lot of times from the construction sites and make little men, little wire horses, to play with.”
When Williams was 10, his parents separated and he moved with his mother to Denver. In Colorado, Williams grew to 6-foot-7 and became an ardently recruited high school basketball star.
Kansas, UCLA and North Carolina pursued him, but then-Kentucky assistant Leonard Hamilton won the battle for UK. “The thing that got me to come to Kentucky was, Kentucky played in the SEC,” Williams says. “My father was in Florida. So (in the SEC) he would have a chance to see me play.”
The time demands of being a Wildcats basketball player meant Williams’ artistic pursuits were constricted in college. He did sew some clothing for teammates. “I made Rick Robey some pants,” he says.
Sometimes, Williams said he would retreat to his dorm room and indulge his creative impulse. “So I always had that as an outlet,” he says. “But (as an athlete), you were around a bunch of people who didn’t really understand you or what you were into.”
An Achilles tendon injury ended Williams’ basketball career after he had played professionally in Italy and Japan. That allowed him to immerse himself fully into his art.
Williams’ sculptures are often distinctive for the elongated arms and legs of the people he portrays. A Herald-Leader reviewer once wrote that Williams’ work “declares its African ancestry” while also being “distinctly American, filled with movement, angular lines and alternately vivid and subtle colors.”
In 2007, Williams was awarded the Kentucky Governor’s Award for lifetime achievement in the arts. 
LaVon Williams, the former Kentucky Wildcats basketball player and well-known Lexington-based folk artist, stood with his 4-year-old grandson, Ellington Williams, in the Isaac Murphy Art Garden. On Friday, LaVon Williams will be inducted into the University of Kentucky College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame. He is currently working on a piece of art that will eventually be displayed in the Isaac Murphy Art Garden.
A piece Williams takes special pride in, “The Piano Lesson,” is currently on display at the Hickory Museum of Art (you can see the work at in North Carolina.
Williams is hoping to complete a piece that will be permanently displayed in Lexington’s Isaac Murphy Memorial Art Garden, which commemorates the three-time Kentucky Derby-winning, black jockey of the late 19th century.
“I haven’t done anything (that is displayed) outdoors,” Williams said. “So I would like to have an outdoor sculpture displayed somewhere.”
As for how he works, Williams, 60, finds that night is the time when the creative muse is most likely to visit his Jefferson Street workshop.
The wood Williams uses comes from a lumberyard. “I can carve from (any type of wood),” Williams said. “But, lately, I’ve been carving a lot of pine. Because pine is easier on your hands and arms.”
A chisel and a mallet are the tools of his craft.
His past in basketball may not have opened doors for Williams as he tried to break into the art world. Yet Williams, a married father of two daughters with one grandson, says connecting through his art has deepened some of his basketball relationships.
“Coach Hall has some of my work,” Williams says. “He loves art. That’s one of the things (when I was playing for him) I didn’t know.”
Hall, 89, takes special pleasure in a sculpture Williams did of him depicting the coach as he used to be on the bench.
LaVon hugs Joe B. at 30 year recognition of 78 champs.JPG
“It’s got my rolled-up program with a big scowl on my face,” Hall said. “It’s hilarious. I love his work. LaVon is very, very talented and deserving of any honor that he gets.”

Lexington Herald Leader

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