Pee-Wee playing big for WC

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, January 15, 2002

[01/15/02]LaShanda Williams wears No. 45. She averages 10 points and eight assists per game.

The number that’s stuck in the back of her mind, though, is 17.

After a stellar start to her senior season, Williams is getting serious attention from Conference USA and Southeastern Conference schools. All she needs to do now is make that elusive 17 on her ACT.

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“That’s what I am focused on right now,” said Williams, who will retake the test on Feb. 9.

Despite not yet making the NCAA minimum score, Williams is excelling on the court.

“She’s always been a good point guard, but now it’s even tougher because her shot’s improved,” Vicksburg High coach Mike Coleman said. “You can’t play off her because she’ll drop a 3 on you.”

Her crowning achievement, so far, came in a three-game stretch at the Jackson Public Schools Pepsi Tournament during the Christmas holiday.

She averaged 19 points per game, hit nine 3-pointers and caught the eye of an Ole Miss assistant.

“I think she can play in the SEC,” said WC coach Donny Fuller, a former Ole Miss assistant. “She has good size for a point guard. She jumps well and is really athletic and all those come into play when you start talking about playing at the next level.”

Williams has transformed her game from a prototypical point guard pass first to a scoring machine. She has thrown a wrench into opponents’ defenses bent on stopping Warren Central’s potent inside game.

Her transformation was most obvious on the final day of the JPS tournament against Callaway and Murrah. Both Jackson teams rely heavily on zone defenses, but when Williams started her long-range assault, they quickly moved to man-to-man.

“We were really concerned about stopping their outside game,” Murrah coach Anna Jackson said after her team upended WC for the JPS title.

“Those three games, I was so relaxed,” Williams said. “I don’t know what it was, but I have to play like that more often. When Quita and (Chasity) Blue got hurt, I knew I had to step up.”

In the past, though, teams tried to stop Wanda Calvin’s shooting because Williams wasn’t a threat.

“Heck, I had to see if I had enough money in our budget to replace the backboards,” Fuller said with a chuckle, referring to Williams’ shooting as a sophomore.

Knowing teams would pack in the defense on Benard, Fuller told Williams she’d need to score more points. He noticed a lean on her shot and each time she leaned, the shot missed badly. A little correction in form and a lot of practice in the summer and Williams is leading the team in scoring and assists.

“Her number one role, still, is to look pass first, shot second,” said Fuller, whose team is 18-4 and ranked ninth in the state. “We’ve seen a lot of teams lately that say, we’re determined to stop their inside game.’ When they do that, you take the shot.”

Fans ooh and aah as Williams shoots 3-pointer after 3-pointer, but ask her, and she still loves to dish the basketball usually to Benard.

Benard, in her fourth year as a starter, was getting used to being hassled under the basket. Now, Williams’ play is opening the inside for her.

“I’m glad she’s shooting more” Benard said. “She always comes out on the court and says, Quita, I’m not gonna shoot much tonight.’ Now I tell her to start shooting.”

That’s something Williams does plenty of, whether against opponents or teammates in the gym or against men on the Mission 66 courts.

Rarely afraid of contact she leads the team in charges taken Williams has been hampered with foot injuries her whole career.

First was a broken ankle suffered two games before her freshman season ended. Then came a case of “turf toe” against Greenville her junior year.

This year, she hurt her Achilles tendon against Natchez.

But injuries rarely keep her off the court. “I’m a tough kid,” she said with a smile.

Her toughness was never more evident than in a game against Vicksburg last season.

The turf toe hurt so bad, Fuller sat her out with hopes of not using her at all.

The backup point guard turned the ball over six straight times down the floor, forcing Williams into the game.

She led the Lady Vikes to a win on one foot.

“She’s fought through so many tough injuries in her career, yet she goes out there and gives everything she’s got,” Fuller said. “You can’t ask for much more than that.”

Except a gold ball at the end of the season.

Williams and the Lady Vikes have not made it into the state playoffs since 1997 and a run this year will rely heavily on the talented point guard.

“By how we are playing now and how we are shooting, I think we’ll make it far,” said Williams, whose nickname is Pee-Wee. “Everyday we have to come ready to practice. The way we practice is the way we play.”

Practice has paid off. Fuller has seen a steady progression throughout her career.

“She wasn’t a great point guard as a ninth-grader or as a 10th-grader,” Fuller said. “But she’s worked so hard, that she is having a great senior season.”