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Women's hoops: Williams steps up after sit-down

20

February

The succession of double-doubles was preceded by doubt. The flourish arrived after a funk. Courtney Williams admits she has spent as many nights in tears as she has in double figures.

"Plenty of times I wanted to go home," USF's sleek sophomore guard said.

"But I called my mom and she'd tell me I've got to stick in there, there ain't nothing back in Folkston (Ga.) for me. She'd be like, 'Go to sleep, and when you wake up you'll feel better.'"

The awakening arrived earlier this season. Williams doesn't remember the exact date, but she's clear on the site, circumstances and soundtrack. It was a heart-to-heart with Coach Jose Fernandez in the Bulls' second-floor conference room inside the Muma Center.

Fernandez's message: Courtney, you need to want to be better. We can't want it for you, you need to want to be better. ... I see all the potential that you have, but I can't want it more than you want it.

"That's how it kind of hit me a little bit," she replied.

"Great players want to hear the truth rather than how good they are and getting your ego stroked," Fernandez added. "I go, 'We need to look at how we can make you better and how you can make yourself better.'"

Since the epiphany, no Bull has been more prolific.

Williams notched her sixth double-double (17 points, 10 rebounds) of the season -- and third in the last six American Athletic Conference games -- in Wednesday's 62-43 victory at Cincinnati.

Four games remain in the regular season. If USF (14-11, 9-5 American Athletic Conference) is to play its way onto the NCAA Tournament bubble, Williams (15.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg) must continue elevating to the basket and boards with equal potency.

Fernandez says her ascension may just be starting.

"I think Courtney Williams is probably one of the most talented kids I've ever coached on...the men's side or the women's side," he said.

"The things that she can do athletically, you go 'Wow.' You look at how she can elevate and go up and down, like a guy; how she can just stop on a dime and her body moves north and south."

More than once, however, she contemplated going north -- and not stopping.

A Class A first-team all-state pick at southeast Georgia's Charlton County High as a senior, Williams struggled with the transition from star to sixth man as a Bulls freshman.

"To have to come here and not even start or not even be looked on to make those plays, it was definitely an adjustment mentally," she said.

At the dawn of her sophomore year, she still was coming off the bench, albeit successfully (17.6 ppg her first five contests). Thrust into a starting role when injuries mounted, she totaled only 15 points in consecutive losses to Clemson and Florida Gulf Coast.

A return to the bench followed, as did the candid conversation with Fernandez.

"I told her that I don't think for the potential and athletic ability she has, that she invests as much as she should," he recalled.

Specifically, Fernandez wanted her to develop her left hand, as well as her basketball IQ; to expand her shooting range (she's 8-for-38 from 3-point land) and embrace the defensive end of the floor.

"Of course, everyone wants to be better," Williams said. "It's just a matter of doing what it takes to be better."

These days, the Bulls are getting optimal return on Williams' investment. Perhaps not coincidentally, Williams has started 13 of 14 games in conference play, when Fernandez's club has been at its best.

As February segues into March, even better days could loom -- for both team and catalyst.

"I always knew I had the potential, it was just a matter of doing it," Williams said. "It was a matter of making that adjustment, taking that step forward to be better."

[Last modified: Thursday, February 20, 2014 12:59pm]

    

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