Sept. 13, 2013
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- It may not be an easy transition, going from college basketball to the professional ranks, but somehow Tennessee graduate Kamiko Williams has made it work with the New York Liberty in the WNBA.
Williams, who graduated from UT in May 2012 and concluded her career last April, was the No. 15 overall pick in the second round of the 2013 WNBA Draft. The challenge to adapt for the Clarksville, Tenn., native has come both on the court and in the metropolitan area in which she now resides.
"It's a culture shock coming from the South to New York," Williams said. "I don't ever drive in the city; I always ride with a teammate. I don't go anywhere by myself, because I'd get lost," she chuckled.
In Williams' senior year on Rocky Top, she played in all 35 games and started on 10 occasions, averaging 7.4 points per contest and recording a pair of double-doubles. She put up 88 assists over the 2012-13 season and in UT's four NCAA tournament games averaged 11.8 points, 4.5 rebounds, 3.5 steals and 2.8 assists.
We caught up with Williams as her rookie season winds down to talk about her transition and first year in the WNBA. She has thus far played in all 32 Liberty games, starting 18 times and averaging 2.7 points and 2.1 rebounds per outing while supplying a defensive presence to the lineup.
Q: How has your first-year journey been?
KW: "I've learned so much. There are so many lessons I've learned about the game, about growing up and being an adult now. I think that was the hardest transition for me, because at Tennessee we had someone to help us with everything, and here I had to adjust and do everything on my own. I think that's been the biggest change. Obviously the season hasn't ended the way we wanted it to - we fell short - but it's a rebuilding year."
Q: How did playing at Tennessee and in the SEC prepare you?
KW: "Just playing hard and playing against great players and people who know the game. A lot of the players in the league came from SEC schools. And, being at Tennessee, we had the hardest schedule all the time. I play with Cappie Pondexter from Rutgers, as well as players from Texas A&M, Notre Dame and Baylor. Having that exposure to great players and then now playing with them or against them has prepared me for playing hard and not taking anything for granted."
Q: How much of a learning curve was it going from college to the WNBA?
KW: "You have to think on your own now. Basketball wise, being in the league, they expect you to learn quicker or already know most of what the coaches talk about, like the schemes we run. At Tennessee, if I didn't understand something or I couldn't get it right, I could get help. Now, working hard isn't going to get you in - you have to play smart as well. The mental aspect is something I have to have all the time - it's probably the biggest adjustment I've had on the court."
Q: What are the biggest differences in Lady Vols practice and Liberty practice?
KW: "Physically, I think Tennessee was the hardest I've ever worked on the court. That might be because we're all college students and young. In New York, it's just more mental. We'll have days where we'll walk through things and talk through defending a team. I miss Tennessee days, but I also like the WNBA, too. I use my brain more."
Q: How have you changed the most as a person and as a player?
KW: "As a person, I've just grown up and matured even more. Now I'm a grown woman; I'm making money, managing money, managing my time. I have to take care of myself. I just think about what I learned at Tennessee from athletic training and strength training. On the court, my role has changed. At Tennessee as a senior, I had to do a lot for the team, but now I'm playing for a great team with veterans, so I try to learn from them while trying to find myself. As a player, I've dealt with frustrations because I'm playing differently than how I did when I was in college. I'm sure my time will come, so I just have to be patient. I'm just learning and doing what I have to do to help my team. Being a rookie is like being a freshman all over again."
Q: What do you miss the most about Tennessee?
KW: "I miss the Southern hospitality. Being a Lady Vol comes with a lot of love. They're family. Our fans are so dedicated and no matter what gym I've been to, they're rooting for us. Here in the league, our whole crowd is about the size of UT's student section. I miss the simple things of Knoxville and the restaurants there, too.
Q: What's it like playing for head coach Bill Laimbeer?
KW: "It's tough. Pat was always hard because she wanted you to play hard and Bill is the same way, however, Pat is tougher. Bill wants you to play hard, but he's more of a mental guy. He wants you to think the game through. If your brain isn't on, that drives him crazy, no matter how hard you're playing. In college, you can get away with just playing hard, but in the league, if your brain isn't on, teams will beat you. We're all young and he sees that, but he's patient and he teaches us well. His brain for the game is awesome. If all coaches had a brain like his, I can't imagine what basketball would be like."
Q: How difficult has enduring a non-winning season with the Liberty been for you?
W: It's been rough, because I hate to lose. Coming from Tennessee, we really hated to lose there. At the same time, I just think back to when we lost games at UT and how we dealt with it and stayed positive and kept the energy up. We all love the game and we wouldn't be here if we didn't. At the end of the day, the love for the game keeps us going and keeps us motivated. We have the pieces and we have the coach, so we know it's up to us to get the results. In Knoxville, we had the program, the fans, the university and so many things keeping us going, but here, it's just the love for the game that keeps our heads up. I find people to talk to to help me and I come back the next day with my head up."
Once the season wraps this Sunday with the Liberty's final game vs. the Mystics in Washington, D.C., Williams will catch her breath before taking her game overseas during the winter months.
Before then, however, you can expect to see the former Lady Vol back in Knoxville to visit sometime later this month, she said.
"I'm going to go home for a bit after the season is done, and then I'll be right back to Knoxville."