Throughout USF women’s basketball’s current historic season, many players have stepped up as leaders for stretches of games at a time. The Bulls’ consistent hot hand and facilitator, however, has undoubtedly been junior guard Courtney Williams.
Williams went to high school at Charlton County High School in Folkston, Georgia. With her talent shining in youth leagues from a young age, Williams knew early on that basketball was what she wanted to
Her freshman year of high school went by smoothly and resulted in a winning season and new teammates forging closer bonds with the up-and-coming talent.
Williams had no idea that the start of her sophomore year might change her life’s course entirely. After defending her cousin in a fight, she was suspended from school for a year.
“I wasn’t thinking about basketball, I just wanted her to be safe,” Williams said. “When the police came my first thought was, ‘My mom is going to kill me.’”
Most athletes might reconsider their careers after missing an entire season of play. Michele Williams, Courtney’s mom, had a different idea. Williams was put on several travel teams over the next 12 months to maintain her eligibility for her junior year while finishing classes at an alternative school.
“Just being able to play during that time was good,” Williams said. “I kept getting better and made sure to make the most of each opportunity that presented itself.”
Despite her impressive skills, Williams found that getting playing time on these teams proved more difficult than expected. Looking for a way to get into the national spotlight, she finally stuck with a single team that promised her a starting role right away, coached by Kenny Kallina from Florida Girl’s Basketball. This youth league also featured Williams’ now-teammates Alisia Jenkins and Shavontae Naylor that same season.
“Without Kenny, I probably wouldn’t even be at USF right now,” Williams said. “He’s the one that contacted the university’s staff and told them to take a look at me in their recruiting process.”
After her suspension ended, Williams returned to Charlton County High for her junior year. She said the transition back onto the team was not as difficult as she expected. The team already knew she was talented so the she no longer had to prove her worth. Williams could finally focus on just playing to win.
That year she helped lead the Indians to their first regional title since 1988, only the second time in school history. The first time the trophy was hoisted hit close to home for Williams — literally — as her mother was the one celebrating 22 years earlier.
In her playing days, Michele secured the Charlton County High single-game scoring record with 40 points as a power forward. Courtney leapfrogged her mother for the coveted accolade not long into her junior season, with 42.
“After that, I told her, ‘Mom, you know you’re not better than me,’” Williams said jokingly. “She finally admits that now.”
Williams’ final season in an Indian uniform proved to be the most prosperous for the aspiring recruit. For the second year in a row, the team won its regional championship and began a run for the state title. After reaching the final four, Williams fell short to Southwest Atlanta Christian High School, which featured current USF teammate, Shavontae Naylor.
Williams owes a lot of her early college success to the guidance of her mom as a former player. Michele took her daughter around the southeast to attend camps and clinics before National Signing Day finally arrived.
The two offer letters in front of Williams were from Auburn and USF.
“As soon as coach Fernandez offered me a spot, my mom told me that’s where I needed to go,” Williams said. “I’m glad I came here now, but at the time I left the decision up to her.”
With Tampa only four hours from her home in Georgia, Michele and the rest of Williams’ family travels back and forth to see their newest star hit the court for almost every home game.
After putting on the green and gold, the 5-foot-8 guard realized she had fallen right back into the same pattern she experienced with the traveling teams in her sophomore year of high school. Although she had made the roster, Fernandez had her playing off the bench in her freshman year.
“I worked my way up to the sixth man but I still wasn’t satisfied,” Williams said “I felt like I deserved to be doing more for the team.”
Williams recalls several times when she called her mom upset that she was not getting the playing time she felt she deserved.
One night Michele finally said to her daughter, “Courtney, you’ve got to stay in there and show them you can play ball.”
Williams realized that the minutes wouldn’t be handed to her.
Halfway through her sophomore year, Williams finally felt that USF was her home, and the coaches’ faith in her play she desperately wanted had finally been bestowed.
Now in her junior year, Williams has emerged as one of the country’s best guards and sharpest shooters. Averaging over 20 points a game in 33 minutes of work and receiving a second-consecutive honor as a first-team All AAC player, the guard has shown her coaching staff that taking a chance on her was the right call.
As a product of Williams’ stellar season, USF (26-7, 15-3) will await its seeding in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which will be revealed during the NCAA Selection Show on Monday. The show will begin at 7 p.m. on ESPNU.
Michele currently works as a social worker in Charlton County, assisting elderly patients when she’s not making the trek back and forth from South Florida.
“My mom is everything. I do what I do for her,” Williams said. “I always tell myself that when I’m done reaching my goals I want to make sure she doesn’t have to work anymore, and that’s still my ultimate motivation.”