Through the years, Geno Auriemma has seen a lot of players come through his program. The king with 11 national titles, a 100-game win streak, and a spot in the Hall of Fame has an eye for talent and can tell when he has something special in a player.
Gabby Williams is not one of those players.
“There’s nothing special about Gabby. I think the term special gets thrown around like it’s ordinary. She’s not special,” said Auriemma. “What she is, is an extraordinary athlete who understands that she is and then tries to live up to it. And not everybody does.”
It’s safe to say Williams has lived up to her abilities this season. The Sparks, Nevada native is in the midst of a breakout junior season, and she’s doing things on the court that nobody else does.
“Somebody send me a video tomorrow of somebody who’s like her,” said Geno. “There isn’t.”
It’s not often you see someone 5-foot-11 playing in the post. It’s rare to see a post player lead the team with 5.3 assists per game. But that’s what happens when you convert a point guard into a forward.
“I made a comment her freshman year with someone that said ‘She was a point guard in high school, why is she playing in the post?’,” Auriemma explained. “I said ‘Because she's a great point guard. But she can’t pass, she can’t dribble and she can’t shoot. But other than that she’s a phenomenal point guard.’”
When Williams came in, the coaching staff focused on crafting her inside game. It worked.
“She’s learned how to score around the basket against anybody,” said Auriemma. “When the guard stuff starts to happen, it’s because she puts time into it every day like she did some other stuff. Then it’ll happen.”
Williams is starting to join elite company on UConn’s all-time records lists. Against East Carolina, Williams earned the fifth triple-double in program history, joining Laura Lishness, Stefanie Dolson, Kaleena Mosqueda-Lewis and Kiah Stokes as the only other players to accomplish the feat.
In the game against SMU, she joined Maya Moore and Breanna Stewart as the third UConn player ever to total 200 rebounds, 100 assists, 50 blocks and 25 steals in a season.
She’s even drawn praise from basketball guru Jay Bilas, who called her “the most complete player in college hoops.”
“I’m just preparing myself more and more every day,” she said. “I’m watching myself develop into the player I came here to be.”
The road to this point hasn’t been easy. In her junior season of high school, Williams tore the ACL in her right knee, which required surgery and ended her year. A few months later, Williams re-injured the knee, partially tearing it. However, the result was the same: a second knee surgery and another lost season.
When she finally got to UConn, Williams hadn’t played for the better part of two years.
“It’s tough coming in just as a freshman, period,” she said. “I was out of shape, I hadn’t played a full season of basketball in two years and it’s really intimidating here.”
But it wasn’t her conditioning that held her back. It wasn’t her basketball abilities. It was a lack of confidence in the knee that limited her early in her career.
“I think she went through periods where she questioned whether she could do it, whether she could get back to the athlete that she was,” said Auriemma. “When things didn’t go her way, that doubt just overwhelms her and you could see it in her body language, see it in her face, everywhere. She would just sabotage herself.”
With the injury issues in the review mirror, Williams just needs to stay focused on bringing her energy every single night.
“If you use an extraordinary amount of energy and intensity level and mind strength, you are the player that everyone wishes they had. When you don’t bring that, you’re just an average basketball player,” Auriemma told Williams.
“[Against South Carolina], I don’t know what was bigger. Her rebounding or her heart.”