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Bruins freshman quietly makes big impact

No need for Amaya Williams to ask for playing time, her skills show she belongs in varsity lineup
Friday, December 8, 2006 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 4:50 a.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Amaya Williams stretches in a circle with her teammates, counting slowly to 10 while she reaches for her right foot with legs split. She counts quietly, as is her nature. Williams is the kind of girl who speaks only when spoken to, and even when that happens, conversations begin and end quickly.

[photo]

Amaya Williams avoids attention, making her the perfect target for some good-natured kidding from her teammates as the subject of a newspaper story. (ASHLEY FUTRELL/Missourian)

Her curly black hair bounces on top of her head as she stretches for her toes. At the count of seven, a photographer snaps a picture of her. The circle of girls erupts into laughter, jokingly accusing Williams of having her own paparazzi.

For the first time since warm-ups began five minutes ago, Williams stretches her mouth into a bright grin. As the new girl, this can’t surprise her.

Williams is one of just two freshmen on the Rock Bridge girls basketball team this season, and despite her youth, the guard is embracing an important role on the squad.

While Kelsey Whittet, the Bruins’ other talented freshman, splits time between the junior varsity and varsity squads, Williams plays for only the varsity. Co-captain Claire Schaeperkoetter said she thinks Williams is clearly varsity material.

“My first impression of Amaya was how smooth she is,” Schaeperkoetter said.

Ten minutes into practice, Williams’ smoothness is on full display. In a classic three-player-weave drill, it’s hard not to notice Williams. She doesn’t run, she glides. She doesn’t leap, she soars. She doesn’t strain, she just does.

All of this from a freshman that coach Jill Nagel explains was well-scouted.

“Our coaching staff does a good job watching them when they are younger in what we call the ‘R.B. district’,” Nagel said. “We saw her play a lot because she really played a lot of basketball. She has a lot of talent, so it was obvious choice to put her on varsity.”

Nagel had so much faith in Williams that the second year coach put her freshman guard in the starting lineup of Tuesday’s game against Liberty, just the third game of the season. When asked about it, Williams, who maintains a cool demeanor throughout any conversation, admitted that it was unexpected.

“I was seriously freaking out,” Williams said. “I was very nervous through the whole game. It’s my first home game, and I’m starting it. I was real nervous.”

A mild case of “freaking out,” however, did not faze Williams, who was the second-leading scorer for the Bruins, notching nine points in a 41-39 loss. But it wasn’t the number on the score sheet that turned heads. Instead, it was the streak of white bolting down the baseline, hoisting 3-pointers with fire in her eyes.

Williams was out to prove she belonged.

“I’m always like that,” Williams said. “I’m always going out there like I have something to prove. That’s my nature.”

Being just one of two freshmen on the squad could be tough, but Williams, a 5-foot-7 guard, said her comfort level around the girls has risen as the season has progressed. She said that is largely because of the older players.

“They’ve always been great,” Williams said. “They’ve been there to help if I need it. I know they have more experience than me, so they can tell me things I don’t know.”

Schaeperkoetter, however, claims that Williams has rarely come to the team’s veterans for advice.

“Honestly, with her level of talent, she doesn’t need much help,” Schaeperkoetter said. “I’m there if she needs help, but she’s good enough not to need it.”

As for fitting into the team, Williams said she feels as if she is just like every other player out on the court. Nagel said that is because of her veteran players.

“They’ve really found their roles on the team, and I credit that to older players,” Nagel said. “They really try to bring the younger girls under their wing. They’re a family off the court.”

Now, the girls have moved to the east end of the gym, passing basketballs around their heads, then waists, then ankles. The goal is to do it as quickly and mistake-free as possible. While others drop or lose their balls, Williams finishes the drill the quickest, not even bothering to slow down, let alone stop.

Smooth.

“Her ability to drive the lane and either pass or shoot is very smooth,” Nagel said. “She knows what she’s doing with the ball whenever she touches it. It’s not like she’s driving and making a decision. She plays so much that she knows what she’s doing.”

Her smoothness, her effortless nature and her calm demeanor on the court are attributes more suited for a senior than a newcomer. But Williams stays quiet about it.

“I don’t think I’m anything special,” Williams said. “Seriously. I think that we all bring different things to the team, and when you put them together, we play great basketball. It’s not me.”


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