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Gabby Williams Discusses Life Under Lockdown in France

UNCASVILLE, CONNECTICUT- August 12: Gabby Williams #15 of the Chicago Sky in action during the Connecticut Sun Vs Chicago Sky, WNBA regular season game at Mohegan Sun Arena on August 12, 2018 in Uncasville, Connecticut. (Photo by Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Gabby Williams is an American-French basketball player who plays for both the Chicago Sky of the WNBA and the Basket Lattes Montpellier Agglomération club in France, whose season was recently suspended due to the coronavirus. Williams, who remains in France under a government-mandated lockdown, won two NCAA championships while playing at UConn. She spoke to Just Women’s Sports about life in quarantine, the financial realities of playing overseas, and what makes UConn so damn good. 

What is your situation in France right now? How is it living under quarantine? 

I am living in a town called Palavas-les-Flots, right near the beach. It’s just me and my cat. One of my teammates actually lives in the same neighborhood as me so before the official lockdown, I would run down to her place and throw rocks at the window. They recently closed the beach, which is really tough because that was the only thing keeping me sane. I was going to the beach close to every day to get fresh air and to exercise.

At first the quarantine wasn’t too bad, but everyday it’s getting harder and more strict. We were just doing what the States are doing now, a recommended self-quarantine with restaurants and bars closed. Then, as of March 16th, they mandated a government lockdown where if you leave your house, you’re going to get stopped by the police and they’re going to ask for your ID and you have to have a paper explaining why you’re out. And just today they announced that we can’t go outside for exercise anymore. France’s president announced that this lockdown is going to be for at least 15 days, but I think it’s going to be longer. This is going to get worse before it gets better.

How has the virus impacted your ability to train? 

It sucks. I haven’t touched a basketball in so long, and I’m someone who tries to get up 500 shots a day. But now I can’t even practice. I just love to be in the gym working on my game, so I miss it a lot. And any basketball player will tell you, if you go two weeks without shooting, you’re not going to feel right when you come back.

Before restrictions, I was doing beach workouts and spending some time healing my body. Then the beaches closed, so I was just running. Now we can’t even go outside, so I just do high intensity workouts inside. I’m someone who likes to work out until I feel totally exhausted, and that is just hard to do with limited resources. It’s an adjustment, but ultimately, I know everyone’s going through a tough time and this is beyond just us. Everyone’s making sacrifices.

What went into your decision to play overseas in the first place?

Honestly, it’s the money. I hate to say it, but financially, if I have to choose, it’s a no brainer. I play overseas. I read a recent Breanna Stewart interview where they asked her why she was going to Russia to play, and she said the real question is, “Why would I come back to the WNBA? I get $900,000 from the Russian team I play for.”

Almost every WNBA player has to play in other leagues. We have to or we can’t support ourselves for an entire year.

And what made you choose to play in France specifically? 

I am a French-American dual citizen, so I have some family in Paris, but most of my family is back in the US. I chose to play in Europe because having a European passport makes me more valuable. Each team is allowed two Americans, but with a European passport, a team can have an extra American. I was playing in Italy last year, and it was not a good experience at all. The club I played for there was very unprofessional as far as paying me on time, and the team actually ended up folding in the middle of the season, so I lost a lot of money. France is probably the only country in Europe where we get paid by the government, so our money is guaranteed and protected. That was a huge reason for me to come to France. I didn’t want to go through another situation like in Italy.

How would you describe your WNBA career so far? What has been the biggest challenge? 

I’ve definitely learned a lot, but it is really tough. I was spoiled coming from UConn, where our team had our own plane and everything. You go to the WNBA and you’re right back in economy class, and the competition is at a whole other level. There is a very big learning curve. It’s the pace, the physicality, the intelligence of the players. Everyone is good. Everyone was one of the best college players in the country their year. There’s only 12 teams, so it’s hard to earn a spot and even harder to keep it. I mean, Megan Gustafson was the 2019 AP College Player of the Year, and she got cut from the WNBA before her rookie season. That’s how competitive it is.

What are your thoughts on the WNBA’s recent collective-bargaining agreement? How has it impacted you as a player?

I was actually a part of the process as a rep for my team. Each team had two who attended meetings and discussion with the union. It was crazy to see it all unfold. All of us representatives met to discuss amongst ourselves what things were most important to us. And then we just had to hope that the league was going to meet us at least halfway. Raising the max was the most important part of the entire agreement, because ultimately that will keep a lot of players from going overseas to play. It’s finally comparable to the kind of money that players make overseas.

For me, individually, I am still on a rookie contract for the WNBA, so the CBA doesn’t impact me too much right now, but hopefully it will in the future. It’s ultimately going to make the league more competitive and a lot more interesting. I mean, even what happened with all the trades and free agency — a lot of that was because of the CBA. Teams just have more money now.

What’s the biggest difference between playing for UConn and playing professionally? 

At UConn, I had to buy into a program. And now I’m playing for a different professional team every six months. You have to constantly re-learn how your team plays together. And I hate to say it, but things are also a bit more individually focused in the professional basketball world versus at UConn. At UConn, you breathe, eat and sleep UConn basketball. And now it’s like some of the time I am with Chicago, and at other times I am in another league. The best thing I can do is just make sure that I’m at the top of my game individually and then just try to be the missing piece that each team needs.

What makes UConn so good, and what made you a successful player while you were there?

You just have to buy in. I mean, that’s why UConn has been so good for so long. Our coaches know how to recruit the right kids, and they’re going to test and push each of us. And if you can’t handle it then you leave or you just never get the playing time. But if you buy in, then they’re going to give you the tools for success. Everyone always says, UConn wins because they get the best players. But if there’s 24 All-Americans that come out of high school and three go to UConn, what happens to the other 21? It’s not the players, it’s the coaches and the system. You just have to buy into what they tell you. And it’s not easy. It’s mentally and physically the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do. But that’s why they push you to pass your limit and that’s why they get the best out of all these players.

You won two national championships as a Freshman and Sophomore and were part of a historic UConn team in 2016. What was that like?

It’s crazy because it’s something you dream about, especially my sophomore year, when we went undefeated. That felt like something out of a movie. You never think something like that is going to happen to you. And I was also so happy for our seniors that year. It was so cool to witness Brianna Stewart in her prime and be a part of it all. We made history, and that’s always special, especially when you really love the team and the girls you’re with.

What happened during your junior and senior seasons?

We fell short in the semifinals. It was crazy, though, because when we lost a lot of our significant players, the media and fans expected nothing from us. I think they ranked us fifth or something, which is a huge deal for UConn basketball. No one expected us to be good. And then we just kept winning. Even though we didn’t win the title those years, it still felt really special because it was me, Naphessa Collier, Katie Lou Samuelson, and Kia Nurse. We were the core four of the team who all stepped up to prove UConn was still great.

“You have to understand that there’s something about you that makes you special” Haley Jones on her WNBA journey.

COLLEGE PARK, GEORGIA - JUNE 23: Haley Jones #13 of the Atlanta Dream dribbles against the New York Liberty during the first half at Gateway Center Arena on June 23, 2023 in College Park, Georgia. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Alex Slitz/Getty Images)

No one understands what Caitlin Clark and the 2024 WNBA draft class has ahead of them better than Atlanta Dream guard Haley Jones.

Jones is a product of her own vaunted draft class, selected sixth overall in 2023 upon finishing a college career at Stanford that produced a 2021 national championship. Since joining the WNBA, Jones had steady output as a rookie, playing in all 40 of the team's games in her first season.

The transition wasn't always easy. Jones had to balance finishing her Stanford degree with the early months of her first professional season, competing against seasoned veterans while closing a chapter of her life as a student.

"In college, it's a job-ish. But now it's really your life, right? And not only are you competing for yourself, but the women that you're going against, this is their lives. They have kids to provide for, families, so it's a different mindset when you come in," she tells Just Women's Sports at the 2024 Final Four in Cleveland. "They're so smart, they're so efficient. And so you'd be doing the same things, but they get there quicker."

Only one year removed from her own college career, watching the upcoming 2024 draft class maneuver the same schedule has been somewhat surreal for Jones. She says she remains close with many of the players still competing for Stanford, including incoming WNBA rookie Cameron Brink, and with the NCAA tournament now behind them she knows just how quickly their lives are going to change.

"The whirlwind that it is when your season ends, you get like three days if you're going to declare for the draft or not," she says. "Then you figure it out, boom, the draft is next Monday. So no time, it's quick. And then they're gonna [have the] draft on the 15th, training camp starts the 26th or 27th, so you have 11 days to move your life to wherever you're going, figure out the new city, get your car there, do all these different little things that come along with it."

Once players arrive in training camp, their spots in the league are anything but guaranteed. With expansion still on future horizons, this year's draft class will be competing with established veterans (including, now, Jones) for limited roster spots. It's not unheard of for even WNBA lottery picks to struggle in establishing a foothold in one of the most competitive leagues in the world.

"A lot of us get to the point of being in the W, you get there because you're hypercritical," Jones says. "That's why you've been able to be so good, your work ethic is insane. So you're watching everything that you do, you're correcting yourself, you're watching film, you're doing all these things."

"I think my biggest advice is really just like the present and understand that you're there for a reason. I think that there's impostor syndrome sometimes when you get to the league. But you have to understand that there's something about you that makes you special, to be where you are."

The rookie wall is real, Jones says, and her own hypercritical nature got the best of her at times during her first year in the WNBA. But she also feels that a player can find the balance beyond imposter syndrome and a busy schedule to get into a sense of rhythm, there's a simplicity to the life of a professional athlete that allows players to further expand their horizons.

Misconceptions about NIL opportunities continuing beyond women's college basketball careers have abounded in recent months, with current WNBA players having to correct the record. Jones is a product of the NIL era, and has only seen her professional opportunities expand since leaving Stanford. "Most of the deals I had in NIL I'm still with now," she says. "because those contracts [extended] or they just renewed now that you're in the W."

"Then you take what you were making [in college] and then you add in your W salary, so — thank you. Now I have my 401k system. I have health care, all these different things — so you kind of honestly add on when you get to the W, on top of better competition, all these different things."

Removing schoolwork from her daily schedule has also given Jones more time to pursue other projects, like her podcast "Sometimes I Hoop", in partnership with The Players' Tribune. As the WNBA continues to build its own ability to market and promote its players, Jones has relished the opportunity to not only meet players she admires through the podcast, but add to an increasingly vibrant media landscape following women's sports.

"There's a lot of men's basketball podcasts out there, a lot of player led ones," she says. "There's not a lot of women's basketball. There's some women's basketball focused pods, but not a lot of player-led ones."

"I think it's great for me to be able to give back to women’s basketball in my own way."

Jones's experience with the podcast has also given her a unique perspective on what possibly comes next for the WNBA, as the league looks to capitalize on a wave of popular young talent while still serving the players already on team rosters.

"Everybody in the league, they were All-Americans at one point in time. They were national champions, like we all have that resume," she says. "I think it's just the W expanding on their storytelling. I think doing a better job with that will do a lot, also like buying into what the players are doing." She notes the impressive personal brands that players like Clark, Brink, and Angel Reese have built on their own.

"The W has a fan base, but then each individual player has a fan base," she continues. "So by locking into those and making them not only Angel Reese fans, Caitlin Clark fans, Cam Brink fans, making them W fans as well will be big."

As Jones grows into her second year as a professional, her perspective of her own college career has also shifted with time. Winning a national championship is difficult, and Stanford's ability to come out on top in 2021 is an achievement she's appreciated even more in the years since winning the title.

"You don't really realize it until later on," she says. "As I look at it now, I realize how big of an accomplishment that that was."

"Talking to my parents, they're like hey, how many people can actually say they won one?" she continues. "How many people become college athletes? DI athletes? Win a natty? One team a year."

The ambitions for Jones in 2024 are even bigger, with the Dream looking to improve upon their fifth-place finish last season. But she also believes the key to growing the game of basketball can be found in connecting with the community, following in the footsteps of college titans like Dawn Staley at South Carolina.

"People buying into these programs because you see them in the community is huge. I feel like for the W to be continuing to do that, continue with community initiatives, all these different things that we're doing. I think that you'll get a lot bigger fan bases."

Chelsea reaches deal with Lyon’s Sonia Bompastor to succeed Emma Hayes

Sonia Bompastor. (Photo by Christian Hofer – UEFA/UEFA via Getty Images)

Chelsea is closing in on Emma Hayes’ replacement, reportedly having reached an agreement with Sonia Bompastor to succeed their longtime coach.

According to the Telegraph, Chelsea and Olympique Lyonnais have agreed on a deal for Bompastor, who will take over Chelsea upon the conclusion of the season.

Personal terms with Bompastor had already been agreed to, but compensation between the two teams still had to be figured out in order to release the coach from her contract a year early. 

Following Bompastor will be assistant coach Camille Abily. Bompastor takes over having won two Champions League titles as a player at Lyon, and one as coach during the 2021-22 campaign. The club also has won two straight league titles under Bompastor. 

The French coach has reportedly been Chelsea’s number one target when looking to replace Hayes. Hayes will depart Chelsea at the end of the season to take the helm of the U.S. women’s national team (USWNT). 

Hayes leaves big shoes to fill. Since taking charge in 2012, she’s led the team to six WSL titles and five FA Cups. The only trophy that eludes Hayes is the Champions League – which she still has hopes to win this year. 

They face Barcelona in the semifinals of the Champions League beginning on April 20. Should they advance, they could face Bompastor and Lyon in the final. 

Christen Press’ soccer comeback ‘is coming along’

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 15: Christen Press #23 of Angel City FC waves to fans following a game between the Portland Thorns and Angel City FC at BMO Stadium on October 15, 2023 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katharine Lotze/Getty Images)

Angel City's Christen Press has given an update on her continued rehabilitation from an ACL tear. 

On Wednesday, Press posted pictures of her training alongside the caption, “The comeback is coming along. The only promise I'll make to you is that I'll try. And what a beautiful, giving thing it is to try.”

Earlier this week, Angel City coach Becki Tweed gave an update on Press, noting that “rehab is going well.”

“She’s progressing along,” she said in an update given on Press as well as M.A. Vignola and Gisele Thompson. “No real timelines on any of them, but they’re all progressing with their rehab and getting what they need right now.”

Press has not played since June of 2022, when she tore her ACL in a match with Angel City. Since then, she’s had four separate surgeries to repair the tear, setting back her recovery. 

A couple of weeks ago, Tweed said that Press is back training with the team “full time” while continuing to work at her rehab. 

“I have a bit of relentless optimism,” she told The Athletic in February. “I never, ever doubted that I would make it back on any of the timelines I’ve been on."

Indiana Fever to be most-televised team in WNBA this season

(Photo by David Purdy/Getty Images)

The Indiana Fever will be the most-televised team in the WNBA this season, which comes as the team is expected to draft Iowa star Caitlin Clark with the No. 1 pick during the 2024 WNBA Draft.

A total of 36 of the team’s 40 games will be featured nationally – up from just one last year.

The reigning WNBA champion Las Vegas Aces will be on national television 35 times, while the runner-up New York Liberty will be featured 31 times. 

With Clark entering the league, it’s expected that a large portion of her following will join her. The NCAA tournament championship between Iowa and South Carolina was the most-watched women’s basketball game ever with 18.9 million average viewers, and it outdrew the men’s championship for the first time. 

In total, Iowa had a hand in a number of record-breaking viewerships across the NCAA tournament, including the two most-watched games prior to the championship.

The announcement comes as teams around the league have been preemptively using Clark as a way to market to fans. The Phoenix Mercury advertised their June 30 matchup against Indiana as "The GOAT vs. The Rook," while the Minnesota Lynx are set to retire Maya Moore's jersey the same night they face Indiana in August. 

Resale tickets for some Fever home games are already 50x their original price, while other teams are seeing a bump for their games when Clark comes to town.

On Wednesday, WNBA commissioner Cathy Engelbert spoke about Clark's impact on the league as it continues to grow. She also shouted out Cameron Brink and Kamilla Cardoso in what she described as a "really strong rookie class."

"I just think [Clark's] style of play resonates with the big basketball fan, the big game fan," she said. "Because with sports you need household names, rivalries and games of consequence. Obviously March Madness had all of that, and we're hoping to replicate it."

In Indiana, Clark will team up with Aliyah Boston, with the duo hoping to help the Fever to the playoffs for the first time since 2016. In Christie Sides’ first year coaching the team last season, they finished 13-27. 

In the past, the WNBA has notoriously struggled to capitalize on the star power of big-time college players. It's often been said that the best college players "disappear" when they first get to the league.

“The WNBA, I don't think, has done a great enough job of marketing their individual stars,” UConn coach Geno Auriemma said during March Madness. 

South Carolina’s Dawn Staley has echoed his sentiments, saying, "We have to bridge the gap between college and the WNBA."

There is hope that this year’s rookie class – headlined by Clark – can begin to do so. 

"With the energy and excitement already generated by what we anticipate will be a star-studded rookie class, and on the heels of a 2023 season that featured one of the greatest MVP races in WNBA history and our most-watched regular season in over two decades," commissioner Cathy Engelbert said, "the WNBA's broadcast and streaming partners are offering a huge national platform that will showcase the league's superstars, rising stars, and rivalries."

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