Shaquala Williams' World -- Sunny-Side Up

Jan. 14, 2002

By Chris Hansen

There was a point earlier this season when Shaquala Williams felt like she was living in some sort of parallel universe.

She was still running the show for the Oregon women's basketball team, still wearing the same No. 3 uniform and still playing at McArthur Court. And yet, everyone around her had changed.No Jenny Mowe hunkering down in the low post. No Angelina Wolvert calling for the entry pass. No Lindsey Dion diving for loose balls.

'Nothing is how it used to be,' Williams said. Including Williams herself.

The 5-foot-6 junior guard from Portland has been reinvented somewhat, as both a player and a teammate, after spending all of her third season at Oregon on the bench with a knee injury.

Oh, she's still the best player on the Ducks' roster, a steady shooter with an uncanny ability to create shots considering her diminutive stature. But the surliness that was once as predictable as winter rain in the Willamette Valley is gone. Now behind every scowl is a trace of a smile. Many times, it's even the other way around.

'I wouldn't say she's a kinder-gentler Shaquala, because being one of her roommates, I get to see that side of her a lot more often than maybe some of her other teammates,' senior guard Jamie Craighead said. 'I think it's just Shaquala letting other people see that side.'

The transformation started when Williams ruptured the anterior cruciate ligament in her left knee two Septembers ago during a scrimmage at Mac Court.

Playing against a group that included then-recruits and current freshmen Amy Parrish, Andrea Bills and Brandi Davis, Williams drove for a layup but stopped suddenly to draw contact from the trailing Katy Polansky.

Pop went the knee, down went Williams, and gone went the season for the reigning Pac-10 player of the year and conference scoring leader.

'I immediately knew what I did, but it took about a month to really hit me that I wasn't going to play,' Williams said.

And it took five months before she started practicing with the team and almost a year before she played competitively again, when she spent three weeks in China this past August playing in a tournament for Team USA.

It was from her spot on the bench last season where she became confident in her teammates as she watched them show off their skills. Williams, who had always put the pressure to win on her shoulders and hers alone, was forced into the realization that the Ducks could win without her.

'At the beginning of (last) season the team started out great,' Williams said. 'Being such a good player and feeling like an integral part of the team, to see the team play so well without you kind of humbles you. They were good and they were good without me. Itallowed me to appreciate what the others can do.'

This season, she has also been asked to adjust her game. Where Williams was once the focal point of the offense, with all plays running through her, and typically, ending with her, she is now just one of five players in head coach Bev Smith's motion offense, where the open player takes the shot.

'It's an equal-opportunity offense,' Williams said. 'On our past teams, it was known that I was the scorer, so give me the ball. When that wasn't happening, things were going to stop. Now, I'm still a scorer, but we're not coming down the court and setting me up a shot. I have to find my shot out of motion.'

She's found plenty. Williams was the Ducks' leading scorer through their first 17 games with a 16.8-point average. She also had team highs of 76 assists (4.6 per game), 28 steals and had made 89 percent of her free-throw attempts (54-of-61).

The team itself is starting to come together, though Williams admits its been tough for her to find a rhythm with them on the court. That's not surprising when you consider only one player on the roster played anything closely resembling quality minutes in Williams' sophomore season, and that was Craighead, a senior who averaged 16.5 minutes in her first two years.

Other than that, Williams had never played with fellow starting guard Edniesha Curry or forward Cathrine Kraayeveld. Alyssa Fredrick and Ndidi Unaka were little-used reserves, and Alissa Edwards and Kourtney Shreve were freshmen. Throw in six new freshmen this year and a brand new coaching staff and, well, Williams must have thought she walked into the wrong gym at the team's first practice this fall.

'It's really just a whole new situation, it's like I'm a freshman,' Williams said with a laugh.Actually, it's the current freshmen who Williams credits for helping her to open up and bring out her smile.

'Before, I was on a team with so many dominant personalities, that for the most part I stuck to my little shell,' Williams said. 'Now this team is so funny and so outgoing that it would be impossible to sit in a room and not get involved in a conversation. They just draw you in and open you up and make you feel comfortable. Their personality is far different from any we've had here before. We never used to laugh in practice before, everything was always so serious.'

But then, so was Williams.

'What is different about her this year is that she knows basketball isn't life,' Craighead said. 'She came in with a different perspective. If something doesn't go our way, it's not going to be the end of the world to her and I think that's lightened things up for everybody.'So it's a new Shaq, new coach, new team, new everything for Oregon.

'It's just a whole different situation,' grinned Williams.

And that's not necessarily a bad thing.

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