Neil Enns/Storm Photos
On Tuesday afternoon, guard Jacqua Williams was one of three players waived by the Seattle Storm. Just reaching training camp was an accomplishment for Williams, however. In the current 12-team WNBA, with just 132 roster spots available around the league, such invitations are a precious commodity.
“It used to be it was a great scenario for someone to make a team,” explained Storm Head Coach Brian Agler. “Now it’s to the point where it’s a special situation for somebody to even be in a training camp. There’s less teams than there were at one time, there are less roster spots. People are really focusing and staying conscious of their budget. When you bring people in, it’s an expense. For the people that get an opportunity in a training camp, that’s quite an honor.”
That general reality doesn’t speak to the unique nature of Williams’ path to Storm training camp. She had been away from basketball for an extended period, pursuing her other sport – track and field – before realizing how much she missed basketball and how much she would not regret pursuing professional opportunities.
“I would say it’s always been in my heart to do,” Williams sad Tuesday afternoon, after her last practice with the team. “I never wanted to leave this Earth not giving myself an opportunity to fulfill my dream. Regardless if I went overseas … this was my dream, to play on a WNBA team, since I was a kid. Why not put yourself in the best situation to create an opportunity for yourself?”
With only a few months to prepare, Williams threw herself into conditioning work with a trainer and honing her skills by playing in tournament and pickup games, as well as working on her shot. That effort paid off when Williams made a positive impression on Agler, President & CEO Karen Bryant and Ginny Gilder of Force 10 Hoops at a tryout camp for free agents held in Denver in conjunction with the Final Four. Two weeks later, the Storm invited Williams to attend training camp in her hometown.
“There’s nothing better,” she said, “than to be in a situation like this and be at home.”
Few players have had that experience with the Storm. While two players from the Seattle area (Edmonds native Kristen O’Neill and Kate Starbird of Tacoma) have played for the team, Roosevelt’s Lindsey Wilson was the only player from the city itself to attend training camp with the Storm before Williams, who was the Seattle Times‘ Athlete of the Year at Rainier Beach High School.
When the Times featured Williams’ story on the front page of Monday’s sports section, it rekindled the popularity she enjoyed as a prep star.
“After yesterday’s paper, my phone blew up like crazy because a lot of people didn’t know I was still in basketball, didn’t know I was still fighting for it,” Williams said. “It’s always exciting when you have your whole town supporting you. It’s always exciting when you’re from here and you have the opportunity to play here.”
Joining the Storm for training camp also meant playing with heroes.
“I went home and told my mom the other day, it’s funny watching Tina Thompson as a kid growing up and watching her play and admiring her and possibly being able to be her teammate,” said Williams. “It’s a transition. We were just talking about how the Houston Comets, they were my favorite team of all time – her, Cynthia Cooper, they were a dynasty. To be able to see her every day as a normal person, you’re trying to transition from a fan to a teammate, but at the same time you admire them and look up to them. It’s a great experience.”
Williams’ goal was always to make the Storm’s final roster, but before getting the news Tuesday, she expressed gratitude simply for the chance to attend training camp.
“I couldn’t ask for a better situation or opportunity,” she said. “I feel like, regardless of what happens, I’m blessed to be where I am. Not that many people can say I sat out for this amount of years and I have an opportunity to play for one of the best basketball programs in the nation. It’s great.”