Troy Williams wasn't sure how, or when, to pop the question. What if the answer were "no"? Could he handle the rejection?
Just as intimidating, what if the answer were "yes"? Could he cope with the pressure?
Riding shotgun as his uncle drove last summer, Williams just blurted it out.
"Uncle Boo, what would you think about me wearing your number next season?"
If you know the difference between a pick-and-roll and cinnamon roll, you know that "Uncle Boo" is Boo Williams, a Hampton Roads basketball icon. His summer league is nationally renowned, the eight-court arena in Hampton that carries his name a regional jewel.
Well, back in day, Boo was an elite player, and Phoebus High School retired his No. 5 jersey when he graduated in 1977.
Troy's question flattered Boo, but he warned his nephew (jokingly?): "If you play bad, I'll take the jersey back."
No worries there. The new No. 5 may become the star of the family.
A 6-foot-6 sophomore forward, Troy leads the Phantoms in scoring (18.3 points per game), attracts recruiters from the ACC and Big East and makes his uncle proud.
"He's a real good athlete, and he wants to be a basketball player," Boo said. "Sometimes you get young kids who play because they think they have to play. Troy wants to go out and do it on his own. He doesn't want to ride on my reputation or my sister's reputation."
Troy's aunt, Terri Williams-Flournoy, coaches the women's team at Georgetown. Last season, her program earned its first NCAA tournament bid in 17 years, and this season the Hoyas are ranked 19th nationally.
"I grew up in a basketball family," Troy said as he relaxed in the Phoebus bleachers after a practice. "(But) I wanted to get my name out there myself, not under their names. I really worked hard at it, and once I started working hard, I realized I liked it. And then I began to love it.
"So I started working harder and harder, and next thing you know, the 15-and-under (summer travel) season came, and I got moved up to 16 and then to 17-and-under, and it kept growing. It was amazing, a big change. There was so much talent there, I didn't think I'd be able to handle it.
"My uncle just told me, 'Go out there and play. Don't worry about who you're playing against.' So I just went out there and had fun, and the game came to me."
On the 17-and-under squad, Williams played for his uncle for the first time. But with teammates such as North Carolina-bound James McAdoo and Virginia Tech signee Dorian Finney-Smith, Williams wasn't on the marquee.
Still, he impressed college coaches with 3-point shooting range, quickness off his feet and ability to pass with either hand.
NCAA rules prohibit college coaches from speaking for-attribution about prospects, but one major conference assistant said Williams "has unlimited potential. He plays exceptionally hard for his age. He attacks the offensive glass very, very well. He's just active. … His ability to make clutch shots is very, very good right now. … I don't think Boo realizes how good he can be."
Similarly, Williams is surrounded by more established talents at Phoebus, the district's defending champion. Senior guards Breon Key and Brian Darden have signed with Old Dominion and Radford, respectively, while senior forward Dashawn Stitt has committed to attend Hampton University.
With that core, Phantoms coach James Daniel played Williams sparingly last season as a rookie.
"A very humble young man, gets along well with his teammates, a little playful at times," Daniel said of Williams. "Very coachable. … But his defense (last season) was terrible. Last summer, he dedicated himself."
If Williams wasn't playing against older kids and adults at the Fulton Street outdoor court near his home, he was working out at the Boo Williams Sportsplex, often with Uncle Boo or Phoebus teammate James Daniel III — it was the latter's idea for Troy to exchange No. 32 for No. 5.
The result is an improved defender especially effective at blocking shots from the weakside, a pogo-stick rebounder and a natural passer clever enough to drive the baseline and dish to a cutting teammate with his off (left) hand.
"I'm mostly … a move-without-the-ball person on offense," Williams said. "Not really great at catching the ball, getting to the middle and then shooting. I'm mostly a set shooter or curling around a screen and being a jump shooter. On defense, my strongest is help side. …
"I don't know how my left hand caught up with my right hand. It just came natural. I know where all my teammates are going to be. I've been around them so long I know what they're thinking. So if I drive baseline, I automatically know the middle man is coming down (the lane), and I can just drop it off and he'll be there."
Williams' offseason training impressed teammates.
"He stayed in the gym and he continued to work," Darden said. "Last year, he didn't get that much playing time because the amount of players we had on the team. But he said that would never happen again. I'm proud of him for how hard he worked to get to this level. He's playing hard, he's playing smart, he's scoring well, and he's rebounding for us.
"It wasn't overnight. It might seem like to everybody else, but I know Troy. He stays in the gym and he stays with that basketball."
Williams confirms the tunnel vision. So does his grandmother. Life is all about basketball and school.
"If you can get the phone out of his hand for a minute — he's always texting — that's really how he is," Patricia Williams said. "He likes his basketball. He doesn't have any special hobbies."
Patricia has spent much of her life in gymnasiums and arenas watching her children, and now her grandson, compete. She compares photos of Boo and Troy and sees a strong resemblance.
"Boo was on the skinny side, too," Patricia said. "The only difference is that Boo's shorts were shorter."
But Patricia knows basketball and understands that Boo became a power player at Phoebus at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. Troy has more finesse in his style.
Troy models his play after North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Baylor's Perry Jones and the Oklahoma City Thunder's Kevin Durant. And the angular, precise nature of their games dovetails with his favorite class.
"I really like math," Troy said. "It's got to be right. If one thing goes wrong, the whole problem's wrong. (Math) gets straight to the point, and I like that."
Straight to the point about Troy entails three questions:
Might he transfer from Phoebus to a national-caliber prep school program?
Not if Patricia has any say.
Where might be attend college?
That decision is far away, though Boo and Troy said Virginia, Virginia Tech, Georgetown and Villanova have shown the most interest.
Will he eclipse Uncle Boo, who after a stellar college career played overseas?
"I don't know," Boo said. "He's still got a lot more years."
A lot more years as No. 5.