It’s starting to sink in. When I heard, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ But then I was busy doing what I’m doing. But now it’s starting to hit me. There are only 150 people inducted so far. It’s an awesome honor. —Natalie Williams
SANDY — Natalie Williams has won a lot of awards, championships and honors in her life.
But none will equal the one she'll accept next summer.
The 44-year-old Taylorsville native will be inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame on June 11, 2016.
“I got the call about three weeks ago from Annie Meyers,” she said of Ann Meyers Drysdale, who was the first woman to earn a full scholarship to play basketball at UCLA after the passage of Title IX. “It was really special coming from her.”
Meyers Drysdale told Williams she was selected because of “what she has done for the game of basketball.”
Williams, a mother of four, grew up in the Salt Lake suburb of Taylorsville and graduated from Taylorsville High School. She was a scholarship athlete in two sports — volleyball and basketball at UCLA, where she became the first woman at the school to earn All-American honors in both sports in the same season. In fact, she became the first athlete to play in two Division I games on the same day during her senior season.
Williams led UCLA to volleyball titles in 1990 and 1991, before graduating in 1994 with a sociology degree. She went on to play in the American Basketball League for the Portland Power and then the Long Beach Stingrays. She was the ABL MVP in 1998. After the league folded, she was drafted by the WNBA’s Utah Starzz, which allowed her to return to her home state.
While playing for the Starzz, she also helped the U.S. women’s basketball team win a gold medal in the 2000 Sydney Summer Olympics. Her oldest daughter is named Sydney in honor of her experience in the Games.
Williams retired from the WNBA in 2005 and began coaching at Skyline High as an assistant. She was subsequently a head coach at Juan Diego Catholic High School, until deciding two years ago to start her own club basketball program, the Utah Flash.
Williams joins an esteemed group of inductees: University of Oklahoma head coach Sherri Coale, Texas high school coach Joe Lombard, WNBA star Jackie Stiles, official June Courteau and Bill Tipps, who served as a member of USA Women’s Basketball Games committee, among numerous other volunteer posts.
The magnitude of the honor is something she’s still trying to comprehend.
“It’s starting to sink in,” she said. “When I heard, I was like, ‘Yeah, that’s cool.’ But then I was busy doing what I’m doing. But now it’s starting to hit me. There are only 150 people inducted so far. It’s an awesome honor.”
Williams said she’s so focused on accomplishing new goals, she doesn’t always take the time to reflect on just what she’s achieved.
“I forget how much I’ve accomplished,” she said. “I’m always working on trying to do more.” One of the great joys of her life currently is coaching her three daughters, the oldest of which, Sydney, 15, will play at Alta High this winter.
Ayla, 8, and Nation, 5, also play, while Sydney’s twin brother Taurasi is a hip-hop dancer.
She said she’s not worried about whether her daughters will feel the pressure that may come as fans and media compare them to her, as she tries to help them focus on the same thing that helped her achieve so much success.
“All Mom cares about is hard work and effort,” she said.
Williams said the honor has given her the opportunity to reflect on how many good coaches she’s had over the years and how that’s shaped her life.
Among them, Williams singled out Billie Moore, who is the first female coach in history to lead two different college programs to national titles..
“To coach, it takes a lot of patience and willingness to give back,” she said. “That’s a lot of my success. I had great coaches and incredible teammates and peers.”
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