John “Hot Rod” Williams, the Sorrento native who overcame controversy at Tulane to have a 13-year career in the NBA, died Friday of cancer at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital in Baton Rouge. He was 53.

“Everybody who knew Hot Rod loved him,” said Mark Bartlestein, Williams’ agent throughout his playing career. “He was just a kid from a small town in Louisiana who never changed. That’s why he went back home to live. This is a very sad day for me and everyone else who knew and loved him.”

Williams was diagnosed with prostate cancer about six months ago, and Bartelstein said it had spread in recent weeks. This summer, though, Williams appeared at a clinic at Tulane sponsored by the National Basketball Retired Players Association, of which he was an active member.

“Hot Rod’s wife told me he might not be able to make it, and you could tell he wasn’t doing that well,” said Eldridge Recasner, a New Orleans native and former NBA player who attended the clinic. “He was a great guy who loved the game of basketball and always tried to give back. That’s why he was there that day. It’s just a shame to see him go so early.”

Williams, a 6-foot-11 power forward/center, was a star at St. Amant High School before signing with Tulane, where he was a three-time All-Metro Conference selection and the league’s Player of the Year as a junior in 1984. But shortly after his senior season, Williams was arrested on suspicion of point shaving in a case that involved other teammates, Tulane students and local gamblers.

Tulane President Eamon Kelley shut down the program for three years in the wake of the scandal. Williams was tried on charges of sports bribery, but the first trial ended in a mistrial and he was acquitted by a jury in the second.

“Hot Rod was as innocent as innocent can be, and that was proven in court,” Bartlestein said. “If you knew him, you’d know he could not be involved in that stuff. He wouldn’t even know where to start. This was just big-city kids at Tulane taking advantage of somebody who didn’t know what the heck was going on.”

While awaiting trial, Williams was drafted by the Cleveland Cavaliers in the second round of the 1985 draft, but his entry to the NBA was delayed until the charges were resolved.

Joining the Cavaliers in 1986, he was named to the All-Rookie team. Williams played nine years with Cleveland before finishing his career with Phoenix and then Dallas. Williams scored 9,784 points in his NBA career, averaging 11.0 points per game.

Although NBA stardom eluded Williams, he became one of the best-liked players in the league because of his willingness to help others. Recasner said he had talked with fellow New Orleanian and ex-NBA player Donald Royal, who recalled how Williams had taken him under his wing when Royal was a rookie in Cleveland.

“You can’t believe how distraught he was,” Recasner said. “But that was the kind of guy Hot Rod was. He helped everybody. If you needed a favor, you went to Hot Rod.”

One of his teammates at Tulane, Daryl Moreau, felt the same way.

“I just remember how easy-going he was,” Moreau said. “There was nothing fake or phony about John. He was just a very genuine, down-to-earth, easy-going guy. John was not a guy who said a lot. He was very comfortable with who he was as a person.”

Williams is survived by his wife, Kisha; children John Jr., Johnfrancis, Johna, Johnpaul and Sydney; his mother, Barbara Colar; brothers Joseph, Leon, Cornelius and Brian; sister Mable; and five grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by brother Robert James and sister Lisa.

Lawson-Rollins Purple Shield Funeral Home of Gonzales is in charge of funeral services, which were incomplete.