Courtney Williams adds intangibles to Sky team being rebuilt on resolute mentality

In sevens seasons Williams has earned a reputation as a relentless backcourt presence in the WNBA. In her career, she’s totaled 2,603 points, 1,104 rebounds, 622 assists, 180 steals and 59 blocks.

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Connecticut Sun’s Courtney Williams (10) drives to the basket as the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot defends during last season’s playoffs semifinals.

Connecticut Sun’s Courtney Williams (10) drives to the basket as the Sky’s Courtney Vandersloot defends during last season’s playoffs semifinals.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

Life’s defining moments aren’t easy to summarize.

So when new Sky guard Courtney Williams was asked to name an occasion in her basketball career that changed the trajectory of her life, she took a hearty pause before answering.

In the silence, one could almost hear all the memories rushing through Williams’ head as she considered her answer.

“I had basketball dreams, obviously,” Williams said. “But I didn’t always think they would come to fruition.”

Considering everything Williams has accomplished in the game — from college and into the WNBA — it’s hard to imagine there could’ve been a time when she didn’t think playing beyond high school was possible.

Williams, who played with the Connecticut Sun in 2022, is entering her eighth year in the WNBA and first with the Sky after signing as an unrestricted free agent. She also just embarked on her second season with Athletes Unlimited, a player-driven professional sports network that has eliminated team owners, giving its athletes unprecedented control over their careers.

The 5-8 shooting guard from Folkston, Georgia, grew up playing on the hoop her dad put up in the yard against neighborhood kids who loved to battle just as much as she did. Those games — with nothing on the line but pride — laid the groundwork for her future.

At Charlton County High School, Williams was a star. She broke the scoring record for a game previously set by her mother, Michele, was named to the All-Region first team as a freshman and earned first-team All-State honors as a senior. Despite her talent, Williams went unrecruited until her junior year.

Williams’ limited recruitment led her to consider a career in the military until South Florida called.

“My mom was like, ‘You have to commit right now,’ ’’ Williams said. “Right when they gave me the offer. I probably didn’t even wait a day or two.”

During her four-year career, Williams became the only South Florida player to rack up at least 2,000 points, 900 rebounds and 300 assists. She’s No. 2 on the school’s all-time scoring list and is second in games played, and in 2020 she was inducted into the program’s Hall of Fame.

She was selected eighth overall by the Phoenix Mercury in the 2016 WNBA Draft.

“I can’t say I’ve had one defining career moment,” Williams said. “Maybe my junior year of college. I remember hearing my name on the draft board, and I’m like, ‘Oh, shoot, hold on now.’ ’’

In seven seasons, Williams has earned a reputation as one of the league’s most relentless backcourt players. In her career, she’s totaled 2,603 points, 1,104 rebounds, 622 assists, 180 steals and 59 blocks. She has had four 30-point games and 17 double-doubles, seven of them during her All-Star season with the Atlanta Dream in 2021.

Couple Williams’ skills with her electric personality, and it’s obvious why Sky coach/general manager James Wade pursued her to be part of his team’s rebuild after the departures of franchise stalwarts.

“If you look at our roster, you can imagine the style, intensity and athleticism that we’re going to try to play with this year,” Wade said.

Wade is drawing on his own experiences to lead this new group.

When he came into the league, he said authenticity was encouraged, and it brought out his best qualities as a coach. Wade isn’t encouraging his new players to ignore the Sky greats who departed, he’s simply asking Williams and his other free-agent pickups to play their own game.

“I want to bring out the best in them,” Wade said. “It’s not going to be comparable to anybody else we’ve had on our roster. That’s how I want it.”

Wade’s new roster, built around 2021 WNBA Finals MVP Kahleah Copper, is structured to pester opponents. Wade is known for getting his teams to push the pace, but to do that, you need to get stops.

With Copper and Williams in the backcourt along with 2022 All-Rookie team member Rebekah Gardner, combo guard Marina Mabrey and Dana Evans, it’s clear to see that this 2023 Sky team will be disruptive.

Wade’s roster is full of players who want to do the dirty work. To understand exactly what style of play will define the Sky in 2023, there’s one loose-ball play that tells the whole story.

“I’m a ‘dawg,’ and [Copper] is a ‘dawg,’ ” Williams said about the pair’s now-infamous semifinals tie-up. “It [was] the playoffs. I ain’t going for it, and she ain’t going for it. [I was thinking] we could stay here all day and do this. I ain’t gonna fold, and you ain’t gonna fold. It’s a testament to our mentalities and what we’re going to bring when we step on the floor together.”

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