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The City Journals

Local Inducted into Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame

Aug 04, 2016 03:09PM ● By Tori La Rue

Natalie Williams, who grew up in Taylorsville, was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in June. Williams played in the 2000 Olympics and on two national teams, all of which won gold medals. –Darren McNamara

By Tori La Rue | [email protected]

Taylorsville, Utah - Surrounded by coaches, teammates and friends at the awards ceremony in Knoxville, Tennessee, Natalie William said her Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame standing began to seep in.

“I got a call back in October from Ann Myers, who is also a former UCLA bruin and one of the best basketball players of all time, and she gave me the news,” said Williams, the leading rebounder in U.S. women’s professional basketball history. “It meant a lot coming from her, but it was almost surreal. In the moment, I didn’t realize how big of a deal that it is.”

Eight months later, Williams, possibly the best basketball player to ever arise from Utah, made the trip to Tennessee where she was inducted into the hall of fame with five others, including University of Oregon coach Sherri Coale and Jackie Stiles, the all-time leading scorer for Division I women’s basketball. The day was full of ball signings and catching up with people Williams hadn’t seen since her UCLA and WNBA days.

Williams began playing basketball at a young age but it wasn’t her only focus in the sports arena. Williams juggled volleyball and basketball at Taylorsville High School before playing both sports at University of California, Los Angeles where she became the first woman to earn all-American honors in volleyball and basketball within the same year.

After graduating UCLA, Williams trained with the 1996 U.S. Olympic volleyball team, practicing four hours a day for five days a week. Williams was the last to get cut from the team, and she said that’s when she decided to make a career out of playing hoops.

The Portland Power, of the American Basketball League, gave Williams her first in on professional ball, and when the ABL ceased operations, Williams moved on to the WNBA, playing for Utah’s own Starzz and the Indiana Fever where she averaged 13.1 points and 8.3 rebounds. She was a three-time All-WNBA 1st team selection and a three-time WNBA All-Star

Williams again began training with an Olympic Team in 2001, but this time for basketball. Team USA team took the gold medal, which to this day is still William’s favorite accomplishment in sports --well, that and wining her two volleyball championships at UCLA, she said. She was named to the national basketball team twice, both times winning gold medals.

At the end of her professional basketball career, Williams moved to Sandy to be close to family and give back to the community.

“I really wanted to help the youth here in Utah,” she said. “Even for as good as I was at basketball, I didn’t know how to get recruited or what I was doing when I was in my early years. I wanted to give back and share what I learned.”

Under Head Coach Deb Bennett, Williams assisted Skyline High School’s girls’ basketball team before landing a spot as Juan Diego’s head coach, where she led the team to two consecutive state championships. Seeing an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of young basketball players around the state, Williams stopped coaching at Juan Diego and became the director of Utah Flash, a club basketball league.

The league is made up of 19 youth teams and five elite teams, which can get crazy at times, William said, referencing her most recent trip with the traveling Flash team where she had to keep track of 40 teens through an airport, but Williams said she considers herself up for the task.

“I would have to say that playing basketball in national games makes you more able to handle pressure,” she said. “That’s how I can keep my cool and not get very stressed out in situations like that.”

In addition to coaching some of the most well-known girls’ basketball players in the state, Williams gets to coach her three daughters on the court, which she said is special.

“My kids know that when we’re on the court I’m not the mom -- I’m the coach, but sometimes they still like to have fun with it, and they’ll say things like, ‘I love my coach so much’ or they’ll come up and want to hug me when they fall down or they get hurt,” Williams said. “They know I’m happy and proud of them.”

William’s oldest daughter, Sydney, played high school basketball at Alta last season. She said she thinks her younger two daughters will also play in high school and will likely go on to play in college.

“I tell them that they better get scholarships because I’m not paying for their school. It’s a little joke we have,” Williams said.

It still may be too early to tell if William’s daughters or players will play professional ball, but she said the skills they learn will last a lifetime.

“They’ll learn those little life things like I did,” Williams said. “Basketball teaches you to really work to communicate. It teaches you how to work hard and realize that if you push it, you don’t have to limit the things that you do.”