When his motorcycle crashed on that summer night in 2003, and word of the severity of the crash reached the Duke campus, a despair settled in Durham while prayers rose to the heavens–this simply could not be happening, not to Jason Williams.

One of the most beloved Duke students in school history, because of his on-court performance, but equally because of his off-court performance, J-Will–and the rest of us–were so very fortunate in that he was able to survive that crash on the North Side of Chicago.

The New Jersey Star-Ledger has a feature up on J-Will today, as the former Duke NPOY fights to get back to where he once was.

“I used to be able to outsprint everybody and get there,” he said. “But the thing is, I’m trying to get in top-level conditioning. I haven’t plateaued yet, man. I have to keep working to get back to where I was, and more.

“I mean, I’ve been playing, don’t get me wrong, but it’s the first time I’ve been playing this kind of competition day in and day out. So there’s a level of adjustment for me, too. I haven’t had to finish over a big guy for a while. It’s a whole different style of game I’m trying to get used to and understand again.”

His first NBA game since April 2003 comes tomorrow in Indianapolis. The Nets, who already have their full quota of players, figure to get him as much playing time as possible in this preseason to give scouts in attendance a good look. Perhaps he’ll find another gear as he gets in better shape. Or perhaps he’ll find it in the Developmental League. But the emerging consen sus is that if he doesn’t get his quickness back in the next four to six months, it may never happen for him.

As of now, Williams is deaf to all that. He is no longer the world- class athlete he was in Chicago, but he is convinced that his determination can get him through this camp and earn him a job again.

“Someone said courage isn’t the absence of fear,” he said. “It’s the presence of fear and the ability to still go through it. That’s what it is. There were days I thought I wasn’t going to make it. But it wouldn’t stop me from working and pursu ing it and pushing and fighting for it.

“I’m not doubting it now. I found out I can play with these guys. The only thing I’m trying to get back is my level of confidence. I’m trying to find out who I am as a basketball player and who I’m going to be. I just have to have a level of patience, too. It’s not going to happen overnight. I have to be patient, keep working and hopefully a year from now I’ll be a different player than I was now.”