Williams Goes From Ukraine to the Hall of Fame
Kim Williams averaged 25.2 points a game---second in the nation---in 1996-97.
Feb. 24, 2015

(Second in a series of feature stories portraying the Class of 2015 honorees being inducted Saturday into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)

CHICAGO – Talk about an exciting lifestyle tilting a little towards the dangerous side---that was Kim Williams in a nutshell about eight months ago.

The former DePaul All-American was starring in a women’s professional league in Ukraine just when erupting hostilities had the Ukraine government troops and the Russian-backed separatists taking aim at one another.

Williams spent 13 seasons playing in Israel, Greece, Poland and Ukraine. She played in Ukraine the last five seasons, winning three championships on two different teams.

“I consider the Ukraine my home away from home,” Williams said. “I was there when everything unfolded. At first, I wasn’t concerned about my safety. The people there look up to Americans and treat us like royalty. They honor us, and I had a lot of respect over there.

“Then, it became difficult with the separatists fighting against the Ukraine government and the USA getting involved. Our safety was at stake. Things were affected all over the country, and eight months ago, they closed down the basketball league. So, I’m back home living in Chicago.

“It was a good time to walk away from my playing career and focus on finishing my degree. It was time to give something back to the game and to the future players that are coming up.”

Williams is being inducted into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame Saturday along with men’s tennis standout Ray Cahnman, men’s basketball star Quentin Richardson, women’s softball star Eric Hickey Dransfeldt and the 1999 Women’s College World Series softball team.

The formal induction ceremony and banquet takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

The Class of 2015 will be honored at halftime of the 1 p.m. men's basketball game Saturday against Butler at Allstate Arena and at halftime of the women's basketball game Sunday against Marquette that tips off at 3 p.m. at McGrath-Phillips Arena.

For information on ordering tickets to the Hall of Fame ceremony and banquet, please contact Katie Ramsey at cramsey1@depaul.edu or (773) 325-7504.

“I was both surprised and overwhelmed when Jeanne (athletic director Jean Lenti Ponsetto) called and told me I was going into the DePaul Hall of Fame,” Williams said. “It’s awesome, and I am so excited about it.

“I am back at DePaul working to finish my degree in physical education, and now this good news lets me know I am going in the right direction. It’s like a sense of accomplishment. It was something I put myself in a position to attain, but you never know.

“After playing basketball overseas for 13 years, it was time to get back and work on my degree. That is real important to me. I won’t feel complete until I get my degree.

“I’ll be the first in my family to get a degree from a major university. Basketball enabled me to further my education, and graduating from DePaul is a good example for the younger kids.”

Williams was an Associated Press Third Team All-American in 1997 after averaging 25.2 points per game which was second in the nation. She also averaged 5.6 assists per game and 4.5 steals. The Conference USA Player of the Year led the Blue Demons back to the NCAA tournament after helping them advance to the NCAA second round in 1996.

On Jan. 24, 1996, Williams set a school record by making 13-of-13 shots from the field in a 115-83 victory at Northern Illinois.

"In all of athletics, the great ones have great eyes," Bruno told the Champaign News-Gazette. "Kim can assimilate situations much more quickly than the normal player. It's like a football back's usage of his eyes to hit the hole. Great baseball players have great eyes. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird had great eyes.

"We've never set out in this program to have anyone lead the nation in scoring. I think I'd be uncomfortable with her numbers if her assists weren't as high."

Williams led Marshall to three state basketball titles and was voted Ms. Basketball of Illinois her senior year. She led Westark Community College in Fort Smith, Ark. to a 35-0 record and the national junior college title in 1995. As a two-time junior college All-American, she was recruited by every top program in the country---except Tennessee.

“There’s a story behind how I came to DePaul,” Williams said. “I had my list of top schools and was talking to my Westark coach. ‘If I’m this good, why isn’t Tennessee recruiting me?’ We called coach Pat Summitt and she said that she didn’t recruit junior college players.

“I went right back to my dorm room, saw that DePaul was going to play Tennessee and I signed with DePaul. I did it off emotion.”

On Jan. 28, 1997, Williams scored a career-high 41 points in a 94-83 loss at Tennessee. The dynamic Blue Demon senior made 17 baskets that included seven from three-point range.

“I had a lot of emotions going into the game, and it was deep in my head that I wanted to show coach Summitt and Tennessee what they missed out on,” Williams said. “I was a little sick, but nothing was going to stop me from getting out on that court.

“Once I took the court, I was in a zone. I was in the moment. When shots started falling, I wanted to keep on shooting it all night long.”

Williams led the Blue Demons to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances in her two seasons and is No. 2 all-time in scoring average at 21.4 points per game. She is also seventh in career steals and No. 11 in three-point shooting percentage.

She set the school record for steals in a season (131) and has the second-highest scoring average in a season at 25.1 points per game. Williams is No. 3 in scoring and field goals for a season and No. 7 in assists.

“At DePaul, I sensed so much passion from everyone there,” Williams said. “And outside of basketball, there was so much support from everyone.

“People as passionate and caring as Jeanne and coach Bruno were always in my corner. They cared about Kim Williams the person and not just Kim Williams the basketball player. I want them to know how important they are in my life to this very day.

“Those were some great times at DePaul. Coming from Englewood on the South Side and adjusting to a college atmosphere wasn’t easy. What helped so much was being around my teammates who really embraced me and made me feel like part of the family.

“Latasha Byears and I were close, and I talk to her all the time. There was Mfon Udoka and all the players who came after me. I have relationships with all of them. That’s important to me.

“If I had to do it all over again, I would pick DePaul in a heartbeat.”

Williams was a bit of a rascal at Marshall and sometimes clashed with legendary Commandos coach Dorothy Gaters.

“I was a character in high school,” Williams said. “That’s my personality to pull little pranks. Sometimes coach Gaters had to talk to my teachers about that. It was all in good fun and my way of enjoying life at the time.”

Gaters told the Chicago Tribune that her star player could be a troublemaker, and Williams confessed with a shy smile that she liked to aggravate people.

"Kim is like Jekyll and Hyde," Gaters said in the Tribune article. "Sometimes she can be caring and helpful and any other adjective which describes a good person. Sometimes she had the meanest streak in her. If the teacher told her to go out of the room, she'd go in the back and peek in.

“Once, she tossed an M&M at a teacher. But Kim knew when I was at my wits end. Usually by the time I got home, there was a message on my machine. She'd never say it, but it was her way of waving the white flag.

"I've had teachers come up to me and say she has really changed. She used to take people through some serious things, but maturity came through because of basketball. She wanted to play, and she had to do things a certain way. Hopefully, she does it because it's right, not because basketball will be taken away.”

Williams will never forget the time she was disciplined by losing an opportunity to meet her idol. Michael Jordan was appearing at an event at Nike Town and some of the top local high school basketball players were invited---including Williams.

But Gaters sent another Marshall player instead.

“That got to me,” Williams said. “She knew how much I looked up to him. But coach Gaters knew how to deal with me and was looking well beyond that one event. I look back now and see how she made me a better person.”

Williams has taken some time recently to reflect back on her career.

“I’m in the IBCA (Illinois Basketball Coaches Association) Hall of Fame for high school, the junior college Hall of Fame and now DePaul’s Hall of Fame,” she said. “You can’t get accomplishments like these without having made some type of impact on the game.”

(Wednesday: Quentin Richardson, men’s basketball)

 

 

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