Wilkinson’s Williams named Miss-Lou’s top player

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, April 5, 2005

When Latasha Williams will never forget the day her dad came home from Wal-Mart with a surprise in the front yard.

It was a basketball goal, and it was all hers to shoot all hours of the night and day. But she learned quickly there was a problem if she really wanted to play on her new goal.

There were no other girls around. So she merely improvised the only way she knew how.

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&uot;I played with the boys,&uot; she said. &uot;Boys play rougher than girls. They made me play harder, too. They don’t take it easy. That made me a better ball player &045; them and my coach staying on me and pushing me (in high school). I’m never the type to quit.&uot;

Williams never quit with the boys and could be found playing as the only player with long hair and a high-pitched voice during PE class at Wilkinson County High School. As a senior, she helped led the Lady Wildcats to a regular season Division 7-3A title and the South State tournament as point guard with just under 18 points a game.

For her efforts, Williams is the 2004-05 All-Metro Player of the Year.

&uot;I’ve had her 4 1/2 years,&uot; Wilkinson head coach Edwin White said. &uot;She’s a good kid and one of those kids who goes the extra mile. You can fuss at her, and she’s still the same. She’s going to be very, very hard to replace. We don’t have anyone with the speed and the knowledge of the position that she has.&uot;

The senior from Woodville had some disappointment in her heart from the season after the team couldn’t get one more step farther along in the playoffs during her senior season. But Williams &045; along with a good cast of talent &045; got the No. 1 seed in the division tournament and pulled an upset in the first round of the playoffs to get to South State.

The team made its second straight trip to South

State and third to the postseason before losing to Southeast Lauderdale at South State.

&uot;We made it South State, but our goal was to make it farther than South State,&uot; Williams said. &uot;Our coach told us we should always strive for something better. This year we strived for state, but it didn’t happen. I played as hard as I could, but I’m still not satisfied because we could have done better.&uot;

Yet it was Williams and some of the other key players on the Lady Wildcats’ roster that got everything going the right way in the playoffs after things took a turn for the worse in the division tournament. They entered as the No. 1 seed &045; a spot that has a playoff spot attached &045; before coming up short against Hazlehurst and Port Gibson.

It not only put the team heading into the playoffs as the No. 4 team out of the division, but it put a significant damper on the spirits of a team that was playing so well heading into the postseason.

So everyone came together, and the Lady Wildcats found a way to take a 62-60 win over West Marion to get to South State.

&uot;Our coach gave us a pep talk and said we were good enough to be a No. 1,&uot; Williams said. &uot;Our coach basically stayed on us like a coach is supposed to do &045; trying to keep our heads up even though we didn’t win our division tournament. I was really upset. We had to talk among ourselves after the tournament. We said we were going to go to state, but it didn’t happen.&uot;

The win came in the face of tall odds, and it put a positive spin on a season that went sour very briefly but at the wrong time. The Lady Wildcats built up steam heading into the tournament with home wins over Franklin County and Hazlehurst, and Williams led the way along with teammates Nakia Stewart, Kim Griffin, Ashley Dennis and Ericka Lewis.

Williams finished the season averaging 17.89 points, 5.76 rebounds, 6.3 blocks, 4.16 steals and 4.4 assists per game. Her numbers improved significantly from her junior year as she played more in control on both ends of the floor and more knowledgeable of when to drive, when to pass and when to shoot and how to go to the left side with confidence.

&uot;This was her senior year, and I felt like a lot of pressure was on her to perform and get better,&uot; White said. &uot;Through it all she played well and got through the hard times. It made her mature as a player. I watched her in the seventh grade. She’s developed her skills and understood the game. I always told the team as she goes, we go. She was the heart and soul of the team.&uot;

While her numbers went up and her role on the team increased, White pointed to that win against McComb as her breakout game. Williams had already heard from a number of small to mid-sized colleges &045; McNeese, West Virginia, Alcorn, Southern Miss, Mississippi Valley, Tougaloo &045; before she rung up 39 against McComb.

Then word spread of the standout player from the extreme southwest corner of Mississippi.

&uot;That game really elevated her to the next level and got people paying attention to her,&uot; White said. &uot;When you beat Natchez and McComb, people pay attention to you. Ever since that game, that really put her on the map. She’s the key for these other kids getting recognition.&uot;

Williams had interest in heading to Alcorn and following in the footsteps of former Wilkinson County star Natasha Dennis &045; a role model of hers in the eighth grade &045; but committed to Tougaloo instead.

It’ll give her another chance to keep improving her game &045; as long as she can find a group of boys to play basketball with.

&uot;I just wanted to try something different &045; a private college,&uot; Williams said. &uot;Everybody was wanting me to go to Alcorn. It’s a good school, but I wanted to try something different. I think I’ve improved as a player, but you can never say you’ve improved a lot because it’s another level. If you’re confident in yourself, all you have to do is handle your business.&uot;