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Sorensen: Marvin Williams will be good influence on young Hornets

Marvin Williams is a player you want on your team and in your locker room. To apply an old word to a 28-year-old, Williams is classy.

“Watch him play at both ends of the court, and everything he does makes sense,” says Charlotte Hornets coach Steve Clifford.

Williams, who nine seasons ago helped lead North Carolina to the NCAA basketball championship, is 6-foot-9. He’ll play power forward and small forward, likely more of the former.

He played for Atlanta and then Utah, and in nine seasons averaged 10.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.3 assists.

Williams, who turned 28 last month, won’t be asked to win games. He’ll be asked to hit shots from the perimeter, hit the open man and drive to the basket. He’ll also be an influence on the younger players the Hornets collect, and he won’t have to be asked.

We don’t know what free agent Lance Stephenson or rookie P.J. Hairston will bring. But a strong core of players is essential. Williams makes a strong group stronger.

Williams, who left North Carolina after his freshman year, has taken classes in Chapel Hill nine straight summers. His news conference Monday was pushed back to 4 p.m. because he had been in class. He’s two days from a degree in African American Studies. Williams is scheduled to walk the stage in December.

I know an African American Studies degree at North Carolina will prompt laughs. That nine summers were required to graduate, summers he could have been spending his time elsewhere, suggests Williams earned his degree.

Clifford also talked Monday about three other new players – Stephenson and rookies Noah Vonleh and Hairston.

Clifford likes both rookies but says neither is ready to play. They’re young – Vonleh is 18 and Hairston 21.

“It’s a man’s league,” Clifford says.

Hairston, says Clifford, has range on his shot and is tough. But he’s learning what the NBA requires. “He’s at ground zero,” says the coach.

Vonleh, a power forward, is physical. He will hammer and bang with the big guys. But, says Clifford, he needs to establish a presence inside. Vonleh’s inclination, like many younger players with perimeter skills, is to go outside. I’m a big guy and look at all the things I can do.

But, says Clifford, Vonleh lacks the quickness and ball-handling skills to stand out as a small forward. If he becomes consistent inside, a scoring threat, he’ll force big men to cover him rather than small forwards, and he can take them outside and put on a show.

Clifford envisions both rookies becoming starters and good players – in two seasons.

Maybe he’s attempting to reduce pressure on his rookie first-round picks. Or maybe he’s being blunt.

Fans, however, like new. We know veterans. We’ve seen them. We know what they can’t do. Rookies, we sometimes believe, can do anything.

Stephenson, the prize free-agent acquisition, is 23 but a veteran of four seasons with the Indiana Pacers. With him, there will be no wait.

“He’s a guy who can be a top-three player (with center Al Jefferson and point guard Kemba Walker) and a go-to guy in the fourth quarter of a playoff series,” says Clifford.

Williams won’t be the go-to guy anymore than his predecessor Josh McRoberts was. (I’ll miss McRoberts.) But Williams will offer the qualities a good team requires.

This is not the first time Charlotte has pursued him.

Andrew Bogut was the first player selected in the 2005 draft and Williams was second. The Bobcats had two first-round picks – 5 and 13. They desperately wanted Williams and were willing to trade both picks to get him. But the Hawks weren’t willing to trade.

The Bobcats were only a season old, however, and considered those picks golden. They were not willing to give them up for the players selected immediately after Williams – Illinois point guard Deron Williams, who went third, and Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul, who went fourth.

The Bobcats, say the source, had Williams ranked in front of Paul on their draft board.

The wait for Williams lasted nine years. But talking softly, and wearing a dark suit, he finally has arrived.