Bob Drebin /
Women's Basketball

Freshman in Name Only

Kiana Williams sometimes feels like a freshman, content to defer to her more experienced Stanford basketball teammates.
Others times, she's a leader, confident enough to give direction. That's who Stanford basketball coaches want to see, and the player that Williams is emerging into. In other words, she's becoming herself.
"We're not coaching her like a freshman anymore," said Kate Paye, The Harry K. and Ida S. Berland Associate Head Coach. "I can tell you that right now."
Williams is among four members of a gem of a freshman class and the first to make a significant impact. Though she is a natural point guard, the 5-foot-8 San Antonio native has found a starting position at shooting guard and has been a fixture in the lineup for the past 11 games. The Cardinal is 7-4 in that span, including 6-2 in the Pac-12.
Williams is averaging 22 minutes – 14 over her first seven games and 27 minutes a game since – and 8.3 points, 1.7 rebounds, and 1.4 assists. She is shooting 82 percent from the free-throw line and 32 percent from 3-point range. Her numbers are even better in conference where she's averaging 10.3 points per game, one of just two freshmen in the league in double figures.
"I'm adjusting," Williams said. "There's so much more you need to know at this level: personnel, who you're guarding, what the opponent likes to do and how to take it away. And the pace of the game is so much faster, and the physicality."
Williams has kept her poise. Not surprising given her upbringing. Kiana's father, Michael Williams, spared nothing in teaching her the game. When Kiana, a third-grader, declared she wanted to learn. Michael took her outside and fired a ball toward her.
It hit her above the right eye. Kiana went to into the house, crying to her mother, LaChelle.
After collecting herself, Kiana dragged her father outside again. He fired another pass, smacking her again. She didn't back down, and called for the ball once more. On the third try, Kiana caught it, and the lessons began in earnest.
"He's taught me everything I know," Kiana said. "He was the first person to put a ball in my hand. He calls me almost every day, still giving me advice and asking me how I'm doing. He's been very instrumental in my success. I'm very thankful for him."
When Michael Williams passed Kiana on to the Stanford coaching staff, he did so with one directive: "Coach her hard."
"And we do," Paye said. "She can take it."
For now, Williams starts alongside junior point guard Marta Sniezek, learning on the court and looking for her own shot. She switches to the point and runs the team.
"If she makes mistakes, she makes the correction in practice or the next game," said Tara VanDerveer, Stanford's Setsuko Ishiyama Director of Women's Basketball. "She's not making the same mistakes over and over. She's a thinker. She's out there thinking about the game.
"You can be very hard on her and she doesn't take it personally or get upset, or get an attitude. She's always positive and upbeat and enthusiastic. I don't think anyone doesn't like her, and what's not to like? She's going to be a great leader and she's going to have a great career."
At Karen Wagner High, Williams took teammates aside and worked with them, or stopped a drill to have her teammates run it until they got it right. That's the type of ownership that coaches want to see of Williams now, not two or three years down the road.
"I asked her, 'Do you know what the best thing you are doing is?'" Paye said. "She wasn't sure, she's shooting the ball pretty well, she's doing a lot of different things. I said, 'It's your body language, your composure. You're the same person every day, whether you start or come off the bench, whether you're shooting well or not shooting well.'"
Mental toughness, she said as an explanation, from those lessons learned on the driveway.
"It paid off in the long run," she said.