TORONTO - As he walked toward the Toronto Raptors bench in his tailored black suit, Alvin Williams heard it from some of the Sixers contingent that was gathered on their side of the court.

There were whistles and jokes and good-natured ribbing. Williams just flashed his endearing smile and kept walking. For the first time, he was making the walk toward a bench not as a player but as a coach, an assistant to Raptors head man Jay Triano.

The Germantown Academy and Villanova product cut his basketball teeth in Philly, and now that his playing days have been axed due to a chronic right knee problem, it is time for him to move to the next phase of what he hopes is a long career in the game.

He played parts of nine seasons in the NBA, almost all with the Raptors. He averaged 9.0 points and 4.0 assists in 460 regularseason games and 12.5 points and 4.3 assists in 18 playoff contests. He is still beloved by the city he calls his second home, as was evident when his name was announced before the game at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday when the fans erupted in applause, as if he was still a player.

In some ways, Williams still wishes he was.

"It's hard, it's still hard," said Williams, still carrying his playing weight of 185 pounds on his 6-5 frame. "Even when we had the exhibition game, just smelling the popcorn in the stands, it brings back a lot of memories. But it's time to make the transition to being a coach."

The good thing for the former Wildcat is that part of that transition means him being on the court with the ball in his hands. Before games he works with players on their jump shots, their offensive moves, the way they should set their feet before shooting. He throws pass after pass after pass to the young players, working up a sweat, occasionally shooting. The desire to play the game is still there. The body just isn't.

"My knee has bothered me since back in college," he admitted. "But it was never anything I couldn't play through. But then in the last few years of my career, I just couldn't do it anymore. The doctors told me I couldn't play. I have arthritis, there's some cartilage damage in there. It's a mess.

"I still want to play and I didn't want my career to end because of health reasons. But that's what happened."

Since retirement after the 2006-07 season, he has tried his hand in broadcasting and still plays in the John Rankin Summer League at Drexel. His direction in life as far as his next move was clouded, until he went to a Raptors game toward the end of last season.

"I came up here for the second to last game of the season," he said. "[President and general manager] Bryan Colangelo asked me what I was doing at home, and I told him I was thinking of starting a basketball camp. Then he offered me this position."

His title is assistant coach/player development. Translated, he is on the court sharing the wealth of knowledge he has consumed during his years in the league.

"I really try to help the players develop and sharpen their skills," he said. "If the coach sees things, he tries to get me and [assistant coach/basketball development] Eric Hughes to translate it to them on the court. When the players have some extra time or some free time, I'll do some drills with them like shooting.

"The great thing is coach Triano values my opinion, he listens to what I have to say. He lets me voice my opinion and he values it. That means a lot."

Almost as much to Williams as being able to be a part of the sport he loves, even if it's not playing.

"I feel blessed," he said. "It's time to make the transition to being a coach. I'm fortunate to still be in the game and to be able to do it in my second home, Toronto. I'm very comfortable. It's a good situation for me. When I think about my career, I feel very blessed. It's all I ever wanted to do and I had the opportunity. You see guys who are here now and in coaching I tell them not to stress the small stuff, that they are doing something that is their lifetime dream."

As is Alvin Williams. The dream might not have been coaching, not at 35. He still wants to be out there with the guys. But as he points out that he's starting to show some white hairs on his two-day growth, he's beginning to come to terms with it.

Six shots

Royal Ivey sat out yesterday's practice after hurting his hamstring in Wednesday night's win over the Raptors. He is day-to-day. Rodney Carney was also out yesterday, as he is nursing a sore hamstring as well. The Sixers face the New Jersey Nets tonight in their first home preseason game at the Wachovia Center. *