South Carolina overcomes slow start to power past UConn
The two teams battled it out.
LAS VEGAS — Orange is definitely Courtney Williams’ color.
From the moment she put it on in 2016, her Connecticut Sun jersey felt like a second skin. Her team was her home, which is why when she was traded to the Atlanta Dream after the 2019 season, Williams felt betrayed.
In 2019, she had started every game, played nearly 30 minutes per contest and averaged 13.2 points per game for the Sun– all career highs.
She didn’t understand why the organization she loved so much didn’t seem to love her back.
“I was too emotional,” she said. “I was just feeling like, ‘Where’s the loyalty?’ But there ain’t no loyalty in business. Business is business, numbers is numbers. That’s something that I learned in that process.”
Soon, though, she realized that her trade had nothing to do with the way Sun players and coaches felt about her. That allowed her to get excited about the new opportunity.
Nicki Collen, currently the head women’s basketball coach at Baylor, worked as an assistant on the Sun staff from 2015-19 before taking over as head coach of the Dream in 2018.
Williams was comfortable with Collen – after all, she’d been part of her Sun family – so the move started to feel like it could be a perfect fit.
“It was lowkey kind of a no-brainer for me since she was over there,” Williams said.
Collen coached Williams in Atlanta for just one season. She departed a week before the 2021 slate of games began to take the head coaching job at Baylor.
But even after Collen’s exit, Williams thrived. Her minutes increased, and so did her points, assists, rebounds – everything.
In 2021 she played 34.4 minutes per game in her second season with the Dream, averaging 16.5 points, 6.8 rebounds, 4 assists and 1.1 steals per game. The South Florida alum was making her mark on her new organization, and the basketball world took notice. Her play earned Williams an All-Star nod – the first of her career.
But the situation soured after that.
In October, Williams posted a video on YouTube of her and teammate Crystal Bradford getting involved in an altercation near a food truck outside an Atlanta club. The 39-minute video was deleted, but footage of the fight circulated on Twitter, leading to the Dream’s decision not to re-sign Williams for the 2022 season.
“The behavior in the video is unacceptable and does not align with our values as an organization,” the Dream said in a statement released the next day. “We are taking this matter very seriously and working with the league to gather more information and determine next steps.”
Williams apologized on Twitter for making light of the situation in the YouTube video, but her agent Marcus Crenshaw claimed the Atlanta Dream had known about the altercation for months and expressed frustration with the organization only choosing to address it when the video emerged and went viral on social media.
“Right now, the team is trying to act like they have the morals, and (they’re) making (the players) some sort of scapegoats by saying they got put off the Dream because of the altercation,” Crenshaw said on a Girls Talk Sports TV Instagram Live.
Whatever the circumstances, one thing became clear: Courtney Williams would no longer be a part of the Atlanta Dream.
Before the incident, Williams said she expected nothing but good things in Atlanta.
“Obviously that’s not how it played out,” she said. “So that kind of ended up hitting me in the mouth. But I mean, overall, I think any experience that you go through that helps you grow. It molded me into who I am now.”
Now, Williams understands the business of basketball. She’s also learned from the mistakes she made in Atlanta.
And while she was away, the Sun came to a realization as well: They needed Courtney Williams in Connecticut.
Without her, in 2020 and 2021, the Sun lost in the WNBA semifinals – to Las Vegas, and then to Chicago.
Williams provides both skill and spark to the roster.
“She’s on a roll right now,” teammate Natisha Hiedeman said after Williams scored 12 points in the Sun’s Game 5 win over the Sky in the WNBA semifinals. “And that’s what we need from her. That’s definitely what’s expected from her, and she just has that mindset where she’s never too high or never too low. Like her energy is the same all the time. She deserves to play good because she’s just a great teammate all the time.”
For Williams, the love she gets from her fellow Sun players is enough to melt away the negative impact of her exit from Atlanta.
She hates the way it went down, but the end result was worth it. It was a blessing in disguise, she said, because it brought her home.
“Everything happens for a reason, right? The good, the bad, the ugly,” she said. “It molds us and it also shows you who really for you. It’s easy to rock with somebody when it’s all roses and sunshine, but it’s like, ‘Who’s rocking with me when it’s not?’ Connecticut did.”
After her breakup with Atlanta, Williams got calls from Sun stars DeWanna Bonner, Jonquel Jones and Alyssa Thomas. They were all rocking with her, and they wanted her back in a Sun uniform.
Turns out there is some loyalty in business. The Sun showed Williams that when they re-signed her before the 2022 season.
After two years away, returning to Connecticut felt like she’d never even left, Williams said.
Now, she wants to repay her squad with a WNBA Championship.
Sporting a purple half-moon bruise under her left eye – an injury sustained during her iconic jump-ball battle with Kahleah Copper during the semifinals series – Williams looked out over the Aces court Monday as her team put up shots.
They mean everything to her.
And Williams doesn’t care that her team has been overlooked throughout this postseason. They rock with her and she rocks with them. Forget the haters.
“We already know what it is and what it ain’t,” she said. “We don’t even trip on none of that. Them folks want to be where we at. So, I’ll tell them to sit down, grab they popcorn and watch us do what we do.”
Eden Laase is a Staff Writer at Just Women’s Sports. Follow her on Twitter @eden_laase.
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