Last season was a wake-up call for Sky forward Gabby Williams.
In her first professional season, she didn’t struggle with the usual rookie growing pains: adjusting to the WNBA style of play, or the pace of the league.
Instead, she had to face the reality of where the Sky were in terms of their rebuild.
After going 148-3 with Connecticut over the previous four seasons, Williams had a difficult transition playing for the Sky, who went 13-21 and never managed to win more than three consecutive games.
“I just wasn’t used to losing that much,” Williams told the Sun-Times by phone. “That was kind of tough being in game situations where we’d be down by so much.”
Playing in the WNBA is as mentally taxing as it is physically, and Williams felt the burden of expectations that came with being the fourth overall pick of the 2018 draft. At times, she wondered if the Sky’s poor record was because of her own shortcomings.
“[Losing] does get to you a little bit, because it’s like they brought me here to do this, to make the team better — am I doing it?” she said. “And then you start having all these self-doubts.”
Overall, however, Williams had a strong rookie season. Although she was inconsistent at times on offense, she averaged 7.2 points on 43.2 percent shooting and was fourth among rookies in rebounds, averaging 4.3 per game.
She has looked even better overseas this offseason. After starting the winter in Italy, Williams has played the last several weeks with Girona in Spain. In four EuroCup games, she has averaged 14 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.3 steals in 28.3 minutes.
“My only focus right now is just on basketball,” she said of her time in Spain. “I’m not really doing much of anything else.”
Williams has always trusted her defensive abilities. Last season, she was one of the Sky’s best defenders, averaging 1.3 steals, which tied her with Sparks forward Nneka Ogwumike for second in the league.
But she hasn’t always been as confident on offense. She focused this winter on fine-tuning her shooting so she could play more freely next season.
“In college and the WNBA, I was always really conscious of how I played and was, like, more scared to shoot or more scared to be aggressive offensively,” Williams said. “I’m trying to challenge myself to take the shots that I normally wouldn’t take, and I’m trying to have a more offensive mindset so I can come into the WNBA with more confidence.”
Playing in Europe has helped her with the mental side of the game, too. She’s more focused on the task at hand rather than winning “to make some kind of statement.”
“That kind of forces you to come back down to earth, and it kind of makes you forget about everything else going on,” Williams said. “Like, ‘OK, what do I need to do today to win this game?’ — not, ‘Oh, crap, we lost three games in a row — we have to win this one.’ You have to forget about the other games.”
With one year of pro experience under her belt, Williams says she’s ready to take the next step in her development. And she believes she can thrive under new coach James Wade.
“I like that the ideas he has for the team,” she said. “I’m the type of player who doesn’t like to do only one thing — I like to play freely. I like to play multiple positions, and he’s really open to that. And he encourages it, which I really like.”