NATALIE WILLIAMS COVERED the basics easily, giving credit to teammates, her coach and the league. She noted that the reality of what she had done hadn't yet hit home. She made good use of the word "opportunity" and called it "a great honor."
All in all, it was the kind of performance you would expect from the best player in an entire league.Then again, she's had plenty of practice.
This week Williams, whose sports career began at Taylorsville High, was at the forefront again, having been named the American Basketball League's Most Valuable Player. She won the award by - what else? - slam-dunking the competition. Williams received 33 of 39 first-place votes, 30 more than her next-closest competitor, Atlanta's Teresa Edwards.
It was no mystery why Williams won the award. When it comes to basketball, she's a one-stop shopping solution. Last year she missed eight games with a knee injury and still had 60 more rebounds than anyone else in the league. This year she was among the top eight in five statistical categories. She won the scoring and rebounding titles, was second in field goal shooting and fourth in blocks. For good measure, she tied for eighth in steals.
All of which says if you're building a team, you start with Williams.
Or to be more succinct, she IS your team.
Williams is no surprise up-and-comer. She didn't just spring onto the sports landscape. The daughter of former Utah State and NBA player Nate Williams, she has been mastering everything she tries since she was old enough to sit upright. She grew up in Taylorsville, living with her mother, Robyn Barker. Her parents split before Natalie was born, and she didn't meet her father until she was 16.
At Taylorsville High it didn't take long for the various coaches to recognize Williams was the sports equivalent of a full-service department store. All they had to do was point her in the direction of a court or playing field and in a few minutes she'd own it.
She was the state's MVP in both volleyball and basketball two years running, as well as an All-State long jumper. She could have gone to college on a softball scholarship but declined. She didn't worry about running out of time, just out of sports.
She graduated to UCLA where she became a first team all-America in both volleyball and basketball. But even there she had to fend off softball coaches who tried to talk her into playing their sport, too. Heaven knows, the golf team could have used her. On the rare occasion that she golfs, she scores in the low 80s.
Given her talents, Williams is nothing less than a 90s Bo Jackson - which makes sense, since they have the same birthday. She even used to drive a pickup truck with "NAT KNOWS" on the plates.
Does she ever.
"Well," she modestly allows, "I'm not very good at tennis. For some reason I either hit it over the fence or I can't get it over the net."
"To me, Natalie is the Charles Barkley of the women's game, with her jumping ability and her fantastic shot moves around the basket," New England's K.C. Jones told the Los Angeles Times.
Which means she probably could toss a small adult through the window of a bar if she wanted.
The accolades never really stopped coming for Williams. In 1996 she was named Pac-10 Female Athlete of the Decade and Utah Female Athlete of the Century. Her biggest worry wasn't talent, it was staying motivated. Yet so far she's had no problems in that area, either. She sets daily, monthly and yearly goals.
After entering the ABL, she determined she wanted to become the best player in the league, which she has. It's no surprise she is planning to repeat next year.
While the rival WNBA has all the marketing power, it doesn't have all the talent. In fact, the ABL has been able to pay higher salaries, so players such as Williams and Edwards labor in the less-visible but possibly more talented ABL.
Williams has tremendous influence in the young league. When she remarked that she would be interested in moving from Portland to play with the Long Beach StingRays next year, people listened. The commissioner didn't come right out and say she could have her way, but he admitted he was all ears. Clearly, the ABL will go to whatever lengths it takes to keep Williams.
There was also talk that Williams might try to hook up with the Utah Starzz of the WNBA, bringing her back home where she would certainly be a crowd favorite.
Whatever she decides, it's safe to say Williams will be playing where she wants next season. If that means playing in Long Beach, or Utah, it's as good as done. She can pretty choose what she wants, when she wants.