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A blog on UConn women's basketball.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

UConn freshman Williams' promising high jump career on hold

I remember that day back in 2012 as if it just happened. I had just written a story on former Amity High star Allison Barwise qualifying to compete in the U.S. Olympic trials in the high jump so when the trials were being held I made sure to tune in.

Barwise, who just recently completed an outstanding career at Boston University, had a strong showing even if she did not advance to the finals. Chaunte Lowe, Brigette Barrett and veteran Amy Acuff were the top three finishers and the U.S. representatives in the Olympics. However, it was a 15-year-old Gabby Williams who stole the show.

I vividly recall the commotion from the other jumpers when she soared over the bar at 1.84 meters (6-0 1/2) on her third and final attempt and when she successful cleared the next night (1.87 meters/6-2 1/4) to be among the final five contenders for the three Olympic spots. She had three solid efforts at the next height before being eliminated.

Little did I know at the time that I would be writing about Williams in the coming years only not for her high jumping prowess. When Williams first started being recruited by UConn one of the stipulations was that she was going to redshirt during her true sophomore season so she could train for the Olympics. However. much has changed since that time. Williams was one of the seven members of the 2014-15 UConn team at the Hartford Golf Club for Geno Auriemma's Fore the Kids charity golf tournament. As her time speaking with the media was winding down I asked if she missed competing for the track and field team during her senior season at Reed High School. Williams said she did and then she dropped this little nugget as well.

"I decided not to track here (at UConn) so this year was supposed to be just for fun, leave my last mark," Williams said.

Naturally, I had to ask Williams if that meant she was putting her Olympic high jumping aspirations on the back burner for the time being or putting them in her rear-view mirror.

"I am going to put it on hold," Williams said. "I haven't decided yet, I still have a lot of time. training after college (to make a run at making the 2020 Olympic team) but I really want to focus on college basketball."

Williams admitted that even after she was recovering from her second torn ACL in as many years she was able to do a little high jumping.

"I was still high jumping at home, it was one of the first things I was able to do because my non-injured leg is my jumping leg and then you just land on the mat so I was high jumping a little at home but nothing competitively," Williams said.

As for basketball, Williams said "I'm ahead of where I thought I'd be, honestly. I didn't think I'd be able to cut like I am right now."

There is no set time frame for when she will be able to practice without restriction but she hopes it comes before she heads home in August after finishing up summer classes.

"I honestly have no idea," Williams said. "I am hoping before I leave in August but Rosemary (Ragle, UConn's athletic trainer) is on vacation so I am waiting for her to get back so she can give me a time frame. I am trying to be patient. It is a lot easier this time because I didn't tear my meniscus this time so I don't have to be as careful. Last year I wasn't weight bearing for a very long time. I don't have to be patient because I am already doing some stuff I didn't think I'd be doing."

So what isn't she able to do right now?

"Mostly just contact," Williams said. "I don't get to do individual practices, instead I do rehab so when I can get into the gym and shoot I do."

Williams certainly got plenty of shooting in during the last two years when she was unable to play.

"My range behind 3-point line (has improved) because it is easy for me to get to the basket being a tall guard but when they have somebody bigger on me I want to be able to pull up," Williams said. "I have been working on it because all I can really do is shooting drills. Before I got here and I was working out at home I was able to do a lot of basketball drills too so on drills I am focusing on jumping off the right foot and get it even with the other one."

When I spoke with her father during the recruiting process he made it clear that he not only wanted Gabby not to play as a senior to prevent another knee injury from occurring (which is exactly what happened) but also was in favor of her redshirting as a true freshman. Gabby Williams said there is no reason for her not to play during this upcoming season.

"It's kind of inevitable," Williams said. "There is no point on waiting a year. If I am going to get hurt again it is going to happen, it is not something you can control."

She looks at her two previous ACLs as little more than unfortunate mishaps with the second one a result of the tendon graft not taking.

"I am really glad that I did (play as a senior) because what they are saying is my graft just didn't take so I am glad I played and found out it wasn't right otherwise I would have came here with something different about it," Williams said. "It wasn't the doctor's fault or anything but it was just the 1/1000 chance that it didn't take. I am glad they caught it and there was enough time for me to get surgery and rehab it before the season starts."

Williams said she can feel the difference in the knee this year compared to how it felt a season ago.

She is obviously excited beyond belief for the chance to get back on the court after much of her final two seasons in high school being wiped out by two torn ACLs. She is not alone. On a recent radio show UConn coach Auriemma said Williams could be as good of an athlete as he has ever brought to UConn.

"I don't want to make him look bad but coming out and not being the athlete that he says I am but it also makes me focus on being more than just an amazing athlete, I also want to be a really skillful player," Williams said. "It is a lot to live up especially when he says something about you."

Williams was the last of the four freshmen to arrive on campus as she just recently graduated from high school. Kia Nurse was here for the first two days of summer session (although she was not enrolled) before she left for the first of three training camps with the Canadian national team this summer. Auriemma mentioned the possibility of one or two exhibition games between the U.S. national team he coaches and the Canadian team that Nurse is a member of in the time after the end of the September training camp in Annapolis, Maryland and when the team leaves for Turkey for the FIBA World Championships. He said talks are underway for one of the games to be played in Delaware and the other in Connecticut but when I spoke to the folks at USA Basketball yesterday, they said nothing has been finalized for those potential exhibition games.

I will have more on fellow freshmen Courtney Ekmark and Sadie Edwards in the coming days.





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