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USF's Courtney Williams aims high in WNBA draft

USF's Courtney Williams takes off after snagging a rebound in the first half of Monday's loss to UConn in Storrs, Conn. [AP photo]
Published Apr. 14, 2016

TAMPA — Their last viewing party, on the night of the NCAA Tournament selection show, was heavy on fidgeting and frayed nerves.

The Bulls women knew they were in the 64-team field, but had to wait more than a half-hour before seeing their name surface on a bracket, in the last region unveiled.

When commentary and commercial breaks stand between you and your destiny, the wait can be excruciating.

Tonight, antsiness shouldn't be much of an issue. Odds are, several of those same Bulls will convene to watch the WNBA draft, and the ice in their beverages isn't likely to melt before their most famous teammate — Courtney Williams — is taken off the board.

"I can see her going as high as three or four to Connecticut," ESPN analyst (and WNBA alumnus) Rebecca Lobo said. "But … I don't think she will fall out of the first round. She is too much of a talent."

The 5-foot-8 dynamo from Folkston, Ga., adds a final historic flourish to her unprecedented USF career. The only Bull to collect at least 2,000 points (2,304), 900 rebounds (931) and 300 assists (318), Williams likely will become the first USF player taken in the WNBA draft's first round.

Bulls alumnus Wanda Guyton was picked in Round 1 of the "Elite Draft" portion of the inaugural 1997 WNBA draft, after playing roughly a decade overseas.

"Courtney is a ridiculous athlete," Lobo said. "And when you watch her in person, you can't help but be wowed at some of the things she does on the floor."

At least two reputable mock drafts project Williams — among 12 prospects invited to the draft — as a top-10 pick. Excellesports.com, a site devoted to women's athletics, has her going to Dallas with the fifth overall pick. Slamonline.com ranks her the No. 6 prospect on its board.

The Williams tools that translate to the next level are as diverse as USF's European-heavy roster. One of women's college basketball's fastest players, she possesses arguably the game's best mid-range jumper and preposterous elevation that helped her average 8.4 rebounds — most of her career — last season.

And while the sheer volume of her shots increased as a senior (mainly due to injuries to other key offensive players), her 3-point efficiency (38.2 percent) was the best of her Bulls career. Moreover, her 87 assists were only one shy of her season-high.

But put those numbers aside, former WNBA coach Carolyn Peck said, and just consider Williams' last two games against Connecticut (37 points, 11 rebounds, four assists).

"Connecticut is the closest that you're going to be able to measure how a player can perform in the WNBA without actually playing in the WNBA, and she is a shot creator," said Peck, an ESPN analyst. "She's got tremendous elevation on her shot, so I think that takes away from anybody saying she's too small, because of her quickness and her ability to elevate."

Tonight, expect her to elevate even more — to a new stratosphere in USF annals.

Contact Joey Knight at jknight@tampabay.com.

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