The most electrifying player in USF women's hoops history is playing coy, though not very effectively.
Surely, Courtney Williams must know she has completed her dizzying transition from Bull to brand name; that she’s successfully evolving into both a versatile and marketable pro.
Not really, she insists.
“I didn’t even notice that, to be honest,” the Connecticut Sun’s multi-dimensional off-guard said in a phone interview Thursday. “I guess people are showing me love.”
Less than six years after nearly bolting USF over dissatisfaction with her sixth-man role, Williams, whose team begins play in the WNBA finals Sunday against the Washington Mystics (ESPN, 3 p.m.), has taken the league by storm.
Her 31,700 followers on Instagram ― her social media outlet of choice ― are 11,000 more than any other Suns player. Her wardrobe, swagger and even sexual orientation have been profiled on national media platforms.
Reception from Connecticut’s fan base, which watched her give Geno Auriemma’s teams fits earlier this decade, has evolved from begrudging admiration to adoration.
The shameless courtside zeal of her father, Don, a magnet of ESPN’s cameras in recent games, has become an entertaining byproduct during the Sun’s playoff run.
“Arguably, she’s our most popular player,” Suns coach/GM Curt Miller said. “And it’s just her infectious personality. Her energy, her love of the game and her genuineness with the fan base just makes her so unique, and someone you can’t help but cheer for.”
Yet brands aren’t built on style alone; substance must remain the primary component.
Williams’ still-burgeoning game is rife with it.
While the south Georgia native brandishes a strikingly different look these days (her long, straight hair has been replaced with bleached, closely-cropped curls), her diverse game is an enhanced replicate of the one that made her the only player in USF history to collect at least 2,000 points (2,304), 900 rebounds (931) and 300 assists (318).
After posting a stat line (13.2 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 3.8 assists) belying her slender 5-foot-8 frame in the regular season, Williams ratcheted up her game (19.0 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 5.0 assists) in a three-game semifinals sweep of the L.A. Sparks.
“I think I was always athletic, I could always score, but I think now I’m more mindful of making the right plays and the right reads,” said Williams, who still wields arguably the WNBA’s most dangerous mid-range jumper.
“And I think that’s definitely a growth spot in my game, actually learning how to play basketball versus going out there and just playing, if that makes sense.”
Miller said her most glaring strides have been made on defense, where Williams averaged a career-best 1.4 steals in the regular season.
“She was not ready to compete defensively her rookie season at this level,” Miller said.
“And to watch her grow over the next few years, understanding the schemes in the league and the help side necessary, the proactive reactions that you need in this league...her growth in that area is almost remarkable.”
Almost as remarkable as the growth of her persona.
Never lacking in candor, Williams, 25, has been known to prod a foe or two, and has gone on record saying a little on-court smack is good for the game.
Her Instagram content has been known to be pretty uninhibited. And she reciprocates the love of her fan base by remaining a sucker for selfies.
All part of building a brand, which sure beats bland.
“I was in college, and in college you’re still finding yourself, trying to find out certain things about yourself,” Williams said. “And I think that now that I’m older, you just kinda know yourself more.”
Contact Joey Knight at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @TBTimes_Bulls.