April 16, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- Tennessee guard Kamiko Williams celebrated and reflected on the end of one season Monday night and turned her focus toward a new one on Tuesday afternoon, as she met with the media at Pratt Pavilion.
After attending the Volscars, UT's year-end Athletics Awards Banquet, Williams returned to her apartment Monday night to do some homework. That kind of commitment enabled her to graduate from college in only three years and begin work on a second degree. Because of that focus on her studies, though, the 5-foot-11 product of Clarksville's Northeast High School was not watching when her name appeared on the television screen during ESPNU's coverage of the WNBA Draft.
She soon would learn from a friend that the New York Liberty had selected her in the second round with the 15th overall pick of the evening. Not bad for someone who started only 10 of 35 games for UT and wasn't listed in most of the mock drafts leading up to the big night.
"Corinne (Milien - former UT graduate assistant) called, and I was actually doing homework," Williams said. "She just called me and told me to turn on the TV. I was excited, but at the same time, I know it's a business and I want to stay focused"
TRANSFORMATIONAL SENIOR YEAR
With long-time assistant Holly Warlick taking the reins from hall of fame coach Pat Summitt, a young team was in need of player-driven leadership. As the squad's only seniors, Williams and Taber Spani were the natural picks to assume that role, but no one could predict how well they would perform in that area.
For her part, Williams provided guidance on the court and off for her younger teammates and set an example with her play, even in the face of adversity. Her 15-point effort in a loss at Baylor early in the season was a hint that she may have turned the corner. Consistent play on the defensive end and ball security on offense became her hallmarks, and double-figure scoring performances began to come more frequently.
It wasn't until a meeting with UT's staff in late January or early February, however, that she realized she possibly had put herself into position to extend her basketball career beyond college.
"(It was) probably when Coach Law and Coach Elzy pulled me into the office and told me if I keep playing the way I'm playing and keep it up, my chances and my stock would go up," Williams said. "But I tried not to look at that. I just wanted to get this team as far as it could go, and the Elite Eight is what we did."
William's development as a person and player occurred as former Lady Vol Kyra Elzy came back to UT to join Holly Warlick's staff as an assistant. Williams is cognizant of the impact Elzy had on her in such a short time.
"Coach Elzy helped me on and off the court to mature and become the person that I am," Williams said. "She instilled confidence in me and told me just to go out there and play to the best of my ability. At the same time she was staying on me, she let me play the game of basketball I know how to play. It worked out for the best.
"I looked to her and told her `don't change your phone number, because I am sure I'll keep calling her every other day, if not every day."
HOPING TABER WILL GET A CALL
Williams said getting her name called on draft day but then seeing her classmate Spani bypassed made it hard to celebrate her own good fortune.
"It was. Taber is a great player, and I feel like she should have (been drafted). I hope there's a team out there that will give her a chance, because she can bring something great to the team. I know she wants to.
"Taber is going to play as long as she can play. I know at the end of the day she wants to do missionary work and use basketball to give back. She's a great player, and I feel like she should be out there playing, so I hope somebody looks at her."
FINISH THE SEMESTER, THEN HEAD TO THE BIG APPLE
Williams, who is working on a second degree (psychology), will work out in Knoxville and finish the spring semester before heading to the Big Apple for training camp.
"I'm working out, doing everything with the girls (team)," Warlick said. "We play pick-up twice, maybe three times a week, and I'm going to run with them tomorrow with Heather. Of course, I texted Coach Elzy, and we're going to get in the gym and she's going to work me out before I get there (N.Y.). Still, just go to class, same routine, nothing's really changed."
ONE OF THE "BAD BOYS" LIKES THE WAY SHE PLAYS
Williams will play for first-year Liberty head man, but veteran WNBA skipper, Bill Laimbeer in New York. In eight seasons as G.M. and head coach of the Detroit Shock (2002-09), Laimbeer led that franchise to WNBA titles in 2003, 2006 and 2008.
Many know Laimbeer as one of the NBA's favorite villains as a four-time all-star with the Detroit Pistons. He helped the famed "Bad Boys" win back-to-back NBA titles in 1989 and 1990 and had his No. 40 jersey retired by Detroit in 1995. Known for his bruising play, Laimbeer admires Williams' game.
"He just said he loves the way I play, because I am patient and he thinks I am a smart player," Williams said. "He said I could be at the one, two or three, and I just told him, `whatever he needs me to do.' This year I was kind of all over the floor, so I am used to it. This is a new team, and I'll just do whatever I need to help the team."