Lady Braves preparing for Jackson State’s 6-7 Williams on Saturday

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 9, 2004

JACKSON &045; Tnonealyer Powers is ready.

Forget the fact that the Alcorn State junior post is 5-11 and teammate underneath Candace Roberts is 6-0. When it comes to defending 6-7 Jackson State senior post Amie Williams, Powers hopes the best way to stop SWAC’s best player doesn’t require having to hoist Roberts on her shoulders for 40 minutes.

When it comes to stopping the conference’s Preseason Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year, not many teams have done it. But it’s up to Powers and the Lady Braves to give it their best shot Saturday when the Lady Tigers play at Alcorn at 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

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&uot;We’ll play our zone on her and push her outside,&uot; Powers said of Williams, who could be the first SWAC player drafted in the WNBA. &uot;She’ll be so far away from the basket she can’t score. We learned she’s foul prone. On defense our big girls will have to step up and push her outside. The worst thing is for her to get in position under the basket and score. All she has to do is turn around.&uot;

It’s been that worst-case scenario that’s been a nightmare for many opponents this season &045; such as Alabama A&M on Jan. 3 when Williams rung up a season-high 31 points. Or there’s the worst-case scenario as far as Williams and Jackson State is concerned &045; Monday’s 69-61 loss to Alabama State where Williams scored just two points before fouling out.

Either way Williams &045; who earned the moniker &uot;Big Smooth&uot; in her first season at JSU last year &045; will be the focus of every opponent the Lady Tigers play this season. Williams currently leads the conference in scoring at 17.3 points per game and is second in the nation in blocked shots at 4.3 per game.

After her first season in 2002-03 where she led the nation in blocked shots, Williams enter familiar territory in her second season in the SWAC. Opposing coaches, too, have a better understanding of how to stop her.

&uot;That’s basically everybody’s game plan &045; gun for me,&uot; said Williams, the Cleveland native who averaged 18 points and 18 rebounds a game last season. &uot;I just have to deal with it. Everybody is going to gun for the key player on every team. It’s not something new. It’s old.&uot;

It’s only going to get older as the season progresses.

Old acquaintances

Williams came out of Eastside High School a super high school prospect. How else could a 6-7 girl be perceived in the world of women’s basketball?

The offers came in, but Williams took the junior college route out and landed at Shelby State in Memphis. There she helped her team get to the national junior college championship as a sophomore and heard from numerous schools interested in one of the biggest female basketball players ever to come out of the Delta.

But they all took a back seat. Williams, who also has a 4-year-old child, had known Jackson State head coach Denise Taylor for quite some time since Taylor also hails from Cleveland.

So the offers were nice. Williams said thanks, but no thanks.

&uot;There were a couple of schools in the SEC, but I had basically made my decision to come to Jackson State,&uot; Williams said. &uot;She (Taylor) is a good coach. She’ll be hard on a lot of people because she wants them to succeed. We grew up in the same area, and I felt comfortable coming here. I felt comfortable she would be there for me, which every coach should.&uot;

So when Taylor landed the giant, it was a huge coup for the young coach and the JSU program. Taylor, the former head coach of the WNBA’s Utah Starzz, had no problem getting Williams, who fit in awfully nice last season with the team’s standout guards.

&uot;She’s from my hometown and played at my high school,&uot; Taylor said. &uot;I’ve known her since she was a little girl. We played under the same coach (Lucy Seaberry). She went to junior college and kind of got lost in the shuffle. Once I came back in the college game, I called her up.

&uot;Amie was highly recruited out of high school. There were other teams that kept up with her (in junior college). I think a couple of factors &045; she knows me, she didn’t want to go far from home and she has a child. She could have picked a whole lot of places to go.&uot;

Williams hasn’t disappointed, and now it’s Taylor’s job to keep pushing her to get better. Monday’s game was perhaps the worst of her career after breaking the 30-point barrier for the first time this season and second at Jackson State two days earlier.

But now as a senior it’s up to Williams to step up and be more of a team leader and minimize her fouls.

&uot;I don’t know if this is a good time to ask me because she didn’t have a good game last time,&uot; Taylor joked. &uot;But she’s getting some looks. WNBA teams have been in to see her. (Teams) are running three or four girls at her. That’s the challenge for her. I certainly feel she has the ability to play against any conference in the country. She can score, has good post moves and good hands &045; that’s what you look at in post players.&uot;

Stopping Williams

Alcorn had the right game plan. After being unable to stop her in the first meeting, the Lady Braves got Williams to foul out late in the game.

In the end the Lady Tigers still won, 65-58, thanks to guards Genina Johnson and Latesha Lee. Johnson is gone, but Lee led the Lady Tigers into overtime against Alabama State before losing.

&uot;We’re doing everything we possibly can with X’s and O’s and different personnel we do have to see how we can defend her,&uot; Alcorn veteran head coach Shirley Walker said. &uot;We’re not going to forget about the people surrounding her. Jackson State has a well-balanced and very talented team. We’ll just try to get better and see what we did from the last game. We’ll do everything we can.&uot;

Williams and the Lady Tigers got tested often during the preseason when they faced tougher competition. Teams may have played the big girl differently each time, but leave it to Walker in her 26th season at Alcorn to have a good idea of how to defend her.

It’s not often, however, the SWAC had a player of Williams’ caliber. Mississippi Valley had 6-3 Patricia Hoskins back in the 1980s who set scoring records that stood until Southwest Missouri State’s Jackie Stiles.

So while the immediate goal of Walker’s on Saturday is for her team to win, she appreciates the talent of an Amie Williams or Alabama State’s 6-5 center, Crystal Kitt, in the SWAC.

&uot;One thing about Patricia Hoskins &045; she was a true all-around athlete,&uot; Walker said. &uot;But Amie and Crystal are the biggest two big girls I’ve ever seen in this conference. I mean, they are athletes. I take my hat off to Coach Taylor, her staff and her team. Who wouldn’t want a 6-7 in their program? I’m very proud of that for the conference. That makes me feel good. Hopefully I’ll get lucky one day and get one of them.&uot;