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Sports Saturday

How coach James Wade has helped Gabby Williams become more confident in herself

Getting Gabby Williams near Courtney Vandersloot’s level will be key for the Sky’s future in the playoffs and beyond.

Slowly but surely, Gabby Williams is starting to come to form as a point guard.
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With All-Star point guard Courtney Vandersloot out sick, Gabby Williams got the starting nod against the Sparks earlier this month. As the game clock inched closer to zero in Los Angeles, Williams felt anxious.

“Ten minutes before [the game], I was like, ‘Oh s---, I gotta play and I gotta play a lot,’” Williams recalled.

Being thrown to the Wolves — or in this case, a talented Sparks team — was the best thing for Williams. She morphed into a human Swiss army knife and finished with six points, six assists and five rebounds, all while playing a career-high 36 minutes.

“The LA game was a big confidence boost for me because I kind of just got through it,” Williams said.

Transforming Williams from a forward into a confident point guard is one of coach James Wade’s goals for this season. And he’s stuck to his guns despite initial resistance from the second-year player.

At UConn, Williams was called a point center because she ran the Huskies’ offense in the five spot. But being a true point guard was foreign territory for her. She disliked the idea of having all that responsibility.

“[At first], I was like coach, ‘Why are you trying to make me do this? I can’t shoot, I can’t handle the ball,’” Williams recalled.

As the season progressed, Wade has continued to push Williams, who’s struggled with the mental aspect of the game throughout her career. Every time she does something well, Wade has pointed it out to her.

“You see this? This is improvement, this is growth,” he’ll tell her.

Likewise, any time Wade has seen Williams drop her head in doubt, he’ll put her in her place.

“I’m just constantly in her ear like a pest,” Wade said. “I want to put her in difficult situations. ... She’s growing, I just want her to realize how special she is.”

Wade’s coaching style is a new concept for Williams this season.

“I don’t think a coach has ever had as much confidence than he has,” she said. “And it’s a really great feeling to have someone have your back when you’re down on yourself.”

Williams has improved throughout this season. She’s becoming more confident in her decision-making ability and ball-handling skills, which she attributes to her 10 minutes of dribbling drills before every game.

But Williams is still her biggest critic. And she said playing backup to Vandersloot is a blessing and a curse.

Sure, it’s nice to learn from the best. But Vandersloot, who is averaging three assists more than the next qualified player in the WNBA, plays on another level.

“The offense is so much worse when I am in,” Williams said lightheartedly. “And I just kind of have to think, ‘OK, it’s not you, she’s just that good.’ I need to stop expecting things to flow like how it is when she’s in.”

Getting Williams near Vandersloot’s level will be key for the Sky’s future in the playoffs and beyond. Williams has the athleticism and skillset, it’s just a matter of her becoming more confident and comfortable in her abilities so opponents can’t take advantage of the 10 minutes Vandersloot is on the bench.

“She’s a special player,” Wade said of Williams. “I want to have a team where you have eight franchise players and she’s one of them.”