Williams Better Late Than Never
After a couple of weeks of soul-searching, guard Toccara Williams made the difficult decision not to attend the Seattle Storm's training camp. Having signed with the Storm in March, Williams knew she was giving up a good opportunity, but with her grandmother, Evelyn Gilbert, scheduled for a pair of surgeries, she wanted to be with her family in Hollywood, Fla. Late last week, Williams notified a "disappointed" Storm Coach Anne Donovan.
That could have been where the story ended. But with the Storm still thin at point guard, they kept in contact with Williams. And when Gilbert came through the first surgery well, unblocking her kidney, Williams made a second difficult decision to travel cross-country to arrive late to camp.
Williams made the decision final on Thursday morning. By late that night, she was in Seattle, and she spent Friday morning taking a physical before arriving at The Furtado Center just a bit too late to participate in the Storm's morning practice. She worked individually on the offense with several members of the Storm's practice squad after practice, then spent time going over film with assistant coach Heidi VanDerveer as part of her crash course in the Storm's system.
"I'm going to have to pick up very quickly, and I think I can do that," Williams said. "It's going to be kind of hard and challenging, but I like challenges, so it should be fun."
Now Williams joins a competition for the right to back up Sue Bird with fellow invitee Shaunzinski Gortman and rookie Erin Grant ( more on this competition). Despite her late start, Williams has a reasonable shot because of her defensive tenacity. Williams twice led the NCAA in steals at Texas A&M, and finished in the WNBA's top 25 in steals per game during her rookie season in San Antonio despite playing limited minutes behind veteran Shannon Johnson.
In terms of steals per 40 minutes, Williams' 2004 performance (3.4) ranks 10th in WNBA history. Only one player had a better steals rate in 2004 - then-Storm backup Tully Bevilaqua. Bevilaqua's subsequent departure for Indiana as a free agent was a big reason why the Storm slipped from second in the WNBA in steals in 2004 to 12th in 2005 and, in turn, why the Storm's defense slipped so much overall. Williams potentially could reverse that trend.
"We've been trying to get a contrasting style to Sue's," said Donovan. "Somebody who can get up, get after it, hawk the ball, play for six to eight minutes and just really get after it. I think she does that. She can stick with a ballhandler, she's big enough, strong enough to put extreme pressure on the ball and give Sue some minutes on the bench or at the two position."
"That's my specialty," said Williams. "That's what I like more than anything - defense, getting steals. That will put us in transition, so I'm really going to focus on that."
Williams' other passion is handling the ball in the open court and creating in transition.
"I think I'm a creative player," she said. "I really like transition, so that's what we're going to do. I really want to be a part of that. It's going to be fun to watch."
Despite the late start, Williams' training-camp experience will probably seem great compared to last year. Entering what should have been her second year in San Antonio, Williams took ill during camp.
"I actually got walking pneumonia during training camp," she explained. "I was out there coughing on everybody and it was not a good experience. It took away my lungs; I couldn't really breathe. When I got back, we had a scrimmage game. During the scrimmage, my breathing was done. It was like starting all over again. It was very difficult."
With the Silver Stars changing coaches during the off-season, newcomer Dan Hughes got little opportunity to see Williams in action and made the decision to waive Williams. Now, she finds herself with a good fit with the Storm. Donovan says Williams' late start won't be held against her.
"She wanted to be sure that if she came late, we were okay with that," Donovan said. "If it were not okay, we would not have let her come."