She’s a legend’s daughter, but Laura Williams is becoming a name, too

She’s a legend’s daughter, but Laura Williams is becoming a name, too

Tooba Shakir 54 years ago 0 0

Laura Williams remembers a conversation she had four years ago, when she was an eighth-grade basketball player who had just started to take the sport seriously. Scott Allen, coach of Washington Catholic Athletic Conference power Paul VI, had come to see her play, and he pulled her aside for a conversation after the game.

“I think you can be one of the greatest players to ever come through my program,” Allen told her.

Williams had no idea what he was talking about.

“I wasn’t able to even imagine that,” she recalled. “Even coming in my freshman year, I really didn’t believe I could do much. It took me a while to stop limiting myself.”

The lofty idea of greatness had loomed over Williams throughout her childhood. In fact, greatness sits down to the dinner table with her every night. Laura’s father is Doug Williams, the Washington football legend and Super Bowl XXII MVP. In some ways, that made the concept feel even more distant. Success in sports had been her dad’s thing. How would she possibly follow that same path?

And yet, here we are. Williams, now a senior at Paul VI, is one of the premier players in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference, one of America’s best high school leagues, which begins its postseason tournament this week.

She is the Panthers’ lone senior, their emotional leader and their leading scorer. This month, she set the program scoring record with 44 points against St. Mary’s Ryken. With her team well ahead, Williams sat out the fourth quarter.

In November, she signed a letter of intent to cross the country next year and play at Southern California. An exceptional student, she hopes to study psychology.

These days, Allen is feeling good about his postgame prediction.

“Yep. Fast-forward four years, and I think that has become true,” he said.

Laura is the seventh of eight Williams children. Her younger sister, Lee, is a sophomore at Paul VI and joins her in the Panthers’ starting lineup. Doug, 68, is a mainstay in the bleachers.

“This is the best thing that could’ve happened to me,” he said at a recent Panthers game, stretching his 6-foot-4 frame across two rows. “Especially at this late age, to be able to watch both of them play together, it’s amazing.”

Laura always had her father’s height: She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t the tallest girl in her class. So basketball, naturally, was recommended — especially by Doug, who had been an all-state player in high school. Laura’s mom, Raunda, encouraged her to try different sports. Laura gravitated to dance and gymnastics, preferring their artistry to the physicality of basketball.

But the more she grew, the more excited other people grew about her potential on the hardwood. And as coaches, teammates and parents started telling her she could be great, Laura found herself enjoying the sport. It felt good to be special. By eighth grade, she had started to think of herself as a basketball player.

She arrived at Paul VI as a 6-foot post player who needed plenty of polishing. She developed an unflappable work ethic, putting in long hours as she developed better footwork, ballhandling and shooting range. As her game improved, so did her confidence. She grew to 6-3, but eventually she thought of herself as more than a center. She was simply a playmaker.

“I’m open to trying everything now, and that’s helped my versatility,” Laura said. “Obviously the athleticism has helped, too. But the confidence to think of myself as versatile has helped my game the most.”

Allen was pleased with her development, but he didn’t realize he had a star on his hands until last February. The Panthers marched to the WCAC tournament final, playing three games in three days. Williams logged every minute of every game, playing her best basketball.

She carried the momentum of that tournament into the spring and summer, putting together a strong AAU season and attracting college attention. USC stood out with its combination of athletics and academics, and she committed in September.

With her recruitment out of the way, Williams could focus on enjoying her senior year. The Panthers have a young team, and she has tried to be the kind of patient, emotionally intelligent leader she looked up to as an underclassman.

“I think I know my teammates on a more personal level than even the coaching staff, so I’m able to direct and guide certain players in a way that I know they will receive it,” she said.

After games, Laura and Lee will ride home with their dad. As a sports parent, Doug Williams is relatively even-keeled. But, like so many basketball fathers, he always has postgame feedback for his daughters. And, like so many teenagers, they rarely want it.

“Neither of them wants to hear a thing after the game,” Doug said with a laugh. “Maybe after we get home they’ll sit and talk about it, but on the way home — win or lose — they don’t want to hear nothing.”

Laura does not dispute this account.

“He always brings up how in high school he was an all-American basketball player and it’s like ‘Oh, my goodness — we know, Dad,’ ” she said.

Paul VI (15-13), seeded fifth, has had an up-and-down season, but it has shown flashes of postseason potential. And its coach? He loves potential. Four years ago, he saw plenty of it in a skinny teenager with a famous dad.

“I think at some point the question was, ‘Is she going to be Doug Williams’s daughter, or is she going to be Laura Williams?’ ” Allen said. “That’s a hard thing to deal with every day. But there is no doubt that she has established herself. She’s Laura Williams.”

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