Gabby Williams excels during first year on Huskies front line. Story by Rich Elliott.
By Rich Elliott
The challenges were many for Gabby Williams last season as she faced the task of getting acclimated to playing in Geno Auriemma’s system at UConn. Not to mention, she had her junior and senior seasons at Reed High in Nevada end abruptly due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her right knee.
There were plenty of questions about how she would respond. Auriemma and the Huskies’ coaching staff made her initiation to the elite level of women’s college basketball more daunting when they moved her inside during the preseason.
Williams is extremely athletic at 5-foot-11. Her leaping ability is sensational as she finished fifth in the high jump at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials (6-2 1/4). She could run the floor too.
However, any knowledge of post moves was non-existent. She had played guard throughout her career to this point, meaning that this change in position was going to be a work in progress.
``I didn’t know what was going to happen,’’ Williams said. ``I was just like, `I’m here now. Let’s see what I can do.’ Just kind of trust my coaches pretty much. I didn’t know one post move so I had a lot to learn. I depended on my athleticism for a lot. But I think a lot of it was mostly just the coaches being patient with me and making sure that I got it right.’’
Williams was diligent when it came to perfecting her craft. As the weeks and months passed, she began to grow more confident in her ability as a low post presence for the Huskies. And she would ultimately evolve into a player that Auriemma could count on.
Williams averaged 8.3 points, 5.7 rebounds and shot a team-high 63.7 percent from the field in 15.6 minutes in 38 games off the bench. She was second on the team with five double-doubles, reaching double figures in scoring in 19 games and double figures in rebounding in six.
``Last year was interesting with the position change and everything,’’ Williams said. ``But just that I was able to contribute and feel like I was really part of the team was awesome.’’
Williams was named to The American All-Freshman Team and honored as the conference Sixth Player of the Year. Heading into her sophomore season, she admitted that she now considers herself a ``forward.’’
``I do call myself a forward,’’ Williams said. ``That’s kind of the funny thing now is I feel like I like it more down there more than I did playing guard. Obviously, the coaches know best and they saw something that I hadn’t seen the entire time I’ve been playing basketball. So I just had to put my trust in them.’’
More will be expected from Williams this season. The Huskies lost 6-3 Kiah Stokes to graduation and 6-5 Georgetown transfer Natalie Butler will be playing her first season at UConn.
Williams will need to rebound more at both ends as well as be reliable offensively. This off-season she is working on her midrange game, admittedly attempting hundreds of shots daily, and her ball handling to increase her comfort level moving away from the block.
Junior Morgan Tuck has already noticed a difference in Williams.
“She really has (taken a step up),” Tuck said. “Her perimeter game I think has come a long way. She’s been working really hard on pull-ups and coming off ball screens. And I think when we’re in pick-up playing it’s really showing.”
The jump a player makes from their freshman year to their sophomore year is often vital to their overall progression. Auriemma said that he expects Williams to be ``way better’’ this season.
Witnessing everything that she accomplished last season while learning a new position in her first year at UConn, this season could truly be special for Williams.
``Again, the only thing that held her back at the beginning of last season was the fact that she hadn’t played for two years,’’ Auriemma said. ``And then you watch her and the progression that she made where she got better and better and better, and in the postseason she has put a lot of time in the gym and she’s getting really, really, really comfortable and that kid’s going to be really good.
``I remember when we recruited Meghan Pattyson and everybody said, `She’s a 5-10 power forward. How are you going to win a national championship with her?’ Well, we didn’t. We went to the Final Four (in 1991). But Meghan was a guard in high school, or a forward, and she played inside the whole time for us. But she made enough open jump shots and she set enough great screens and she passed the ball really well. And these are all the things that Gabby does, and she’s a hell of an athlete. So you put somebody out there who’s an incredible athlete, who’s really good around the basket, who as she gets a little better shooting the ball, that’s a tough match-up for people.’’