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LSU signee Mikaylah Williams can do it all for Parkway basketball

Mikaylah Williams led Parkway to a first-place finish in Class 5A District 1 last season. (Garrett W. Ellwood/USA Basketball)

Editor’s note: This is the last in a five-part series previewing the top five girls basketball players in the Class of 2023 before the start of the 2022-23 high school season. Click here to see the latest rankings from the Class of 2023. Counting down: No. 5 Hannah Hidalgo | No. 4 Aalyah Del Rosario | No. 3 Jadyn Donovan | No. 2 Juju Watkins | No. 1 Mikaylah Williams.

Leadership, superior guard skills, unmatched discipline, a genuine passion for the game of basketball — Mikaylah Williams has anything and everything a college coaching staff could want.

For years now, Williams has set herself apart from other members of the Class of 2023 with an ever-rising ceiling of potential.

She’s a three-time gold medalist with Team USA, the reigning Gatorade Louisiana Girls Basketball Player of the Year and the lone junior to be named a 2022 Naismith Player of the Year finalist.

Last year, the 6-foot Williams averaged 13.9 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists per game, leading Parkway High School (La.) to a first-place finish in Class 5A District 1. The Panthers ended the year with a 34-3 mark and lost in the state championship, but they return Williams and a host of others and will surely threaten to make another run.

Coach’s analysis

Parkway coach Gloria Williams, who has led the Panthers since 2016, has admired her star guard’s character in every aspect of life and the way it translates into her play on the basketball court.

“Her mindset sets her apart,” Gloria said. “Her discipline sets her apart when it comes to training. In the classroom, it sets her apart — she’s a 4.0 student — and her work ethic just sets her apart from everyone else.

“She’s a top-notch kid raised by great parents, and it’s bred in her. She communicates with her teammates on and off the court. She’s just that kid.”

It’s typical for Williams to appear as the calmest player on the floor, regardless of the score, situation or opponent. Her coach has seen that mentality rub off on her teammates and foster a culture of resilience and success.

“That’s her. Her demeanor doesn’t change,” Gloria said. “It’s always something positive, and she’s the calm to the team. It’s nothing that necessarily has been taught or something that’s learned. I think it’s just in her.

“Great leaders lead, but there are servant leaders. That’s how I see Mikaylah.”

Gloria cited Williams’ defensive improvement as the biggest key to her growth as a player. The guard she was in last season’s title game is not the same one who will take the court for Parkway in 2022-23.

“I am a defensive-minded coach, so I was extremely pleased with that,” Gloria said. “I’ve told her from the beginning, ‘You can score with the best of them,’ and to sit and stay in front of people and defend, that’s the portion that I am most proud of for her at this stage.

“We’ll see what she brings to the table for this season because I know it’s gonna be something.”

Catching up

This summer, Williams earned her second and third gold medals with Team USA — first, in Debrecen, Hungary with the U17 team, followed by her return to the 3×3 squad in August. Williams was once again named MVP of the 3×3 tournament.

She also wrapped up her AAU career with Mavs Elite and played in the Under Armour Next Elite 24 game.

Williams recently signed her National Letter of Intent with LSU, where she leads one of the most impressive classes of the 2023 cycle, alongside Aalyah Del Rosario and Angelica Velez of The Webb School (Tenn.) and Janae Kent of Oak Forest (Ill.)

“I believe she’s going to carry everything she’s learned with her to LSU,” Gloria said. “And I think she’s going to build on that. That’s one thing about her I can say: Every year she has brought something to the game of basketball here for us.

“Defensively, she stepped up last year, she can go to the basket any time that she wants to, and she has the frame of a college player already. When she gets to LSU, she’s just going to turn it up another notch because that’s her dream school. That’s where she wants to be. So, she’s going to give it everything that she has.”

Caroline Makauskas is a contributing writer for Just Women’s Sports. She also covers a variety of sports on her TikTok @cmakauskas. Follow her on Twitter @cmakauskas.

Alyssa Naeher’s goalkeeper jersey sells out in less than three hours

uwnt goalie alyssa naeher wears jersey on the field with club team chicago red stars
USWNT star keeper Alyssa Naeher's new replica NWSL jersey was an instant success. (Daniel Bartel-USA TODAY Sports)

For the first time in the NWSL's 12-year history, fans can now buy their own goalkeeper jerseys. And while replica goalkeeper jerseys representing all 14 NWSL teams hit the market on Wednesday, some didn't stick around for long. 

Fans across women's soccer have long vocalized their discontent over the position's lack of availability on social media, often comparing the shortcoming to the widespread availability of men’s goalkeeper jerseys. And as the NWSL has grown, so has demand — and not just from those in the stands. 

"To have goalkeeper kits available for fans in the women’s game as they have been for so long in the men’s game is not only a long-awaited move in the right direction, it’s just good business," said Washington Spirit goalie Aubrey Kingsbury in an team press release. "I can’t wait to see fans representing me, Barnie [Barnhart], and Lyza in the stands at Audi!"

Business does, in fact, appear to be booming. Alyssa Naeher’s Chicago Red Stars kit sold out less than three hours after the league's announcement. Jerseys for other keepers like DiDi Haračić, Abby Smith, Michelle Betos, Katelyn Rowland, and Bella Bixby aren’t currently available via the Official NWSL Shop, though blank goalkeeper jerseys can be customized through some individual team sites. Jerseys start at $110 each.

"This should be the benchmark," said Spirit Chief Operations Officer Theresa McDonnell. "The expectation is that all players’ jerseys are available to fans. Keepers are inspiring leaders and mentors with their own unique fan base who want to represent them... I can’t wait to see them all over the city."

Simone Biles talks Tokyo Olympics fallout in new interview

gymnast simone biles on a balance beam
Biles' candid interview shed light on the gymnast's internal struggle. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

Decorated gymnast Simone Biles took to the popular Call Her Daddy podcast this week to open up about her experience at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, revealing she thought she was going to be "banned from America" for her performance.

After Biles botched her vault routine due to a bout of the "twisties," she withdrew from the team final as well as the all-around final in order to focus on her mental health. She later reentered the competition to win bronze in the individual balance beam final.

In her interview with podcast host Alex Cooper, Biles admitted to feeling like she let the entire country down by failing her vault attempt.

"As soon as I landed I was like 'Oh, America hates me. The world is going to hate me. I can only see what they’re saying on Twitter right now,'" she recalled thinking. "I was like, ‘Holy s---, what are they gonna say about me?'"

"I thought I was going to be banned from America," she continued. "That’s what they tell you: Don’t come back if not gold. Gold or bust. Don’t come back."

Widely regarded as the greatest gymnast of all time, Biles has hinted at a desire to join her third Olympic team in Paris, though her participation won't be confirmed until after the gymnastics trials in late June. She holds over 30 medals from the Olympic Games and World Artistic Gymnastics Championships combined, and if qualified, would be a sure favorite heading into this summer’s games.

Caitlin Clark reportedly nearing $20 million+ Nike deal

Caitlin Clark #22 of the Indiana Fever poses for a portrait at Gainbridge Fieldhouse during her introductory press conference
WNBA-bound Caitlin Clark is said to be closing in on a monumental NIke deal. (Photo by Matt Kryger/NBAE via Getty Images)

Caitlin Clark is reportedly close to cementing a hefty endorsement deal with Nike.

The Athletic was the first to break the news Wednesday evening, commenting that the deal would be worth "eight figures" and include her own signature shoe. On Thursday afternoon, the publication tweeted that the deal would top $20 million, according to lead NBA Insider Shams Charania. Both Under Armour and Adidas are said to have also made sizable offers to the college phenom and expected future WNBA star.

The new agreement comes after Clark's previous Nike partnership ended with the conclusion of the college basketball season. She was one of five NCAA athletes to sign an NIL deal with the brand back in October, 2022. 

Considering Clark's overwhelming popularity and Nike's deep pockets, the signing's purported value doesn't exactly come as a shock. New York Liberty guard Sabrina Ionescu’s deal with the brand is reportedly worth $24 million, while NBA rookie and No. 1 overall pick Victor Wembanyama’s deal is rumored to weigh in at $100 million. And in 2003, LeBron James famously earned $90 million off his own Nike deal. 

Clark’s star power continues to skyrocket, with the NCAA championship averaging 18.9 million viewers and the 2024 WNBA Draft more than doubling its previous viewership record. Following the draft, Fanatics stated that Clark's Indiana Fever jersey — which sold out within an hour — was the top seller for any draft night pick in the company’s history, with droves of unlucky fans now being forced to wait until August to get their hands on some official No. 22 gear.

In Wednesday's Indiana Fever introductory press conference, the unfailingly cool, calm, and collected Clark said that turning pro hasn’t made a huge impact on how she’s conducting her deals.

"If I’m being completely honest, I feel like it doesn’t change a ton from how I lived my life over the course of the last year," she said. "Sponsorships stay the same. The people around me, agents and whatnot, have been able to help me and guide me through the course of the last year. I don’t know if I would be in this moment if it wasn’t for a lot of them."

Star slugger Jocelyn Alo joins Athletes Unlimited AUX league

softball star jocelyn alo rounds the bases at an oklahoma sooners game
Former Oklahoma star Jocelyn Alo has signed with Athletes Unlimited. (Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images)

Former Oklahoma slugger Jocelyn Alo has signed on with Athletes Unlimited and will compete in the AU Pro Softball AUX this June.

The NCAA record holder in career home runs (122), total bases (761), and slugging percentage (.987), Alo was originally drafted by the league in 2022 but opted instead to join the newly debuted Women’s Professional Fastpitch

Alo currently plays for independent pro softball team Oklahoma City Spark, with team owner Tina Floyd reportedly on board with her recent AUX signing. AUX games are scheduled for June 10-25, while the Spark's season will kick off June 19th. Alo will play for both. 

Among those joining Alo on the AUX roster are former James Madison ace pitcher Odicci Alexander and former Wichita State standout middle infielder Sydney McKinney.

According to Alo, the decision to play in the Athletes Unlimited league was fueled by her desire to propel women's sports forward as well as provide more exposure to a sport that's given her "so many opportunities."

"Not only to challenge myself more, but just for the growth of the game," Alo said, explaining her reasoning to The Oklahoman. "I genuinely believe that professional softball can be a career for girls."

Joining AUX is also one more step in her plan toward representing Team USA at the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.

"I’m constantly thinking about how can I do these little things right in these four years to prepare me for the biggest stage of softball," she told The Oklahoman. "I definitely want to play in the Olympics, for sure."

Alo further expressed enthusiasm in the hope that the rise of other women’s sports, like women’s basketball and the NWSL, will push softball’s professional viability even higher.

"We’re seeing the NWSL (National Women’s Soccer League) get their stuff going, I see the WNBA starting to get hot," she continued. "I feel like the softball community is like, 'All right, it’s our turn and it’s our turn to just demand more.'"

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