She won't be able to wear her old familiar No. 24 anymore, but other than that, Salt Lake City's Natalie Williams isn't unhappy that she was traded Thursday by the San Antonio Silver Stars, nee Utah Starzz, to the Indiana Fever and her former Olympic coach, Nell Fortner.
"If I got traded, I couldn't think of a better place to go," Williams said by cell phone about 150 miles south of Oklahoma City Thursday.
She had been on her way in a two-vehicle caravan with her twins and her father, Nate Williams, the former NBA and Utah State player, to San Antonio when she received news Wednesday in Albuquerque that she was being traded.
Williams called Wednesday's events, in which she had to pivot northeast after being "halfway there" to San Antonio, "pretty much a comedy, or a nightmare, I'm not sure.
"Thank goodness for Dad," she said, indicating he's been a help because he's been traded before.
The deal was completed Thursday to send the three-time WNBA all-star plus the No. 11 selection in the April 25 WNBA Draft, North Carolina combo guard Coretta Brown, to Indianapolis for the Fever's top picks in last week's dispersal and rookie drafts.
San Antonio gets former Portland center Sylvia Crawley, taken by Indiana with the No. 6 pick in the dispersal draft, and University of Tennessee forward Gwen Jackson, the No. 7 overall pick in the rookie draft.
Williams said the trade was "a complete surprise. They had told me they weren't shopping me around, and Indiana actually asked for me," she said, adding, "Most things that happen in my life have been for the good.
"I like that I'm going somewhere that I know the coach. I love playing with Tamika Catchings (Indiana forward, with whom Williams played on the World Championships team)."
Catchings, however, already wears No. 24 for Indiana, so Williams said she might go with the No. 12 she wore on the gold-medal-winning 2000 Olympic team. That number is currently vacant on the Fever roster.
Williams said it will be difficult to leave the only WNBA team she's played for, one with Jennifer Azzi and Marie Ferdinand. "It will be hard, especially with Jen, and I'll miss Marie," said Williams, who has trained with Azzi the last three months at the Starzz's old practice facility at Franklin-Covey in West Valley City. They played men's teams every day but Sunday, Williams said, in getting ready for Silver Stars training camp, which opened Thursday.
The Utah Starzz franchise was transferred to San Antonio in December and has the same nucleus as the team that went to the Western Conference finals last September. Candi Harvey is again the coach, and Salt Lake resident Tammi Reiss remains her assistant. That team begins exhibition play May 10 and opens the regular season May 24.
A Taylorsville High two-sport star, Williams did not always fit well in Harvey's triangle offense last year and said she felt left out of some plays because passers couldn't find her. Harvey said she had to make herself more available. "The triangle can work," Williams said Thursday, "but we didn't run it to its fullest."
Williams has scored 3,604 points in her WNBA/ABL career, the second-leading scorer in U.S. women's professional basketball history. She is sixth in WNBA rebounding history with 1,156 and has the league's seventh-best career scoring average, 15.4. She is only the second three-time WNBA all-star to ever be traded; the other is the Fever's Nikki McCray, who came from Washington. All-stars have been traded only 11 times in the WNBA.
"We're ecstatic to have Williams join our team because she's one of the best post players in the game today," said Fever chief operating officer Kelly Krauskopf in a WNBA.com story. "She's going to help our team and help our franchise grow as a contender in the Eastern Conference. She comes with great credentials. Her career speaks for itself."Said Fortner in the same release, "I'm excited to be coaching Natalie again. I'm fully aware of what she can do, and what she brings to this team is exactly what we needed - a dominant low-block player who is an outstanding rebounder. She is a great rebounder on both ends of the floor."
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