HARRISONBURG — Candice Williams was going to play women’s basketball at Louisiana Tech. The 5-foot-6 high school point guard from Atlanta signed her letter of intent under then-coach Teresa Weatherspoon, but the former WNBA great was fired and replaced with 23-year-old Tyler Summitt.
That change — and Summitt’s age and inexperience — prompted the now James Madison-bound Williams to make her own change. She asked for her release.
“It did, it did,” she said Monday. “Age and it being a first time for him [being a head coach] at the age of 23. I’m not saying he wouldn’t be successful, but I don’t think, in my time there, he would have been there long enough to change the program around while I’m there.”
So Williams is now headed to a program with a veteran coach who just took his team to the second round of the NCAA tournament.
While belated, Williams is the fourth player JMU coach Kenny Brooks has recruited for the class of 2014, joining combo guard Hailee Barron, power forward Carley Brew and small/power forward Beverly Ogunrinde.
“The success that Coach Brooks has had and kind of just the player development,” Williams said of why she picked JMU. “And I feel like he’ll make me a better person and also a better basketball player, and I feel like he’ll push me because I still don’t think I’ve reached my full potential. But I feel like he’ll push me to reach my full potential.”
This year at St. Francis High School in Alpharetta, Ga. – just north of Atlanta – Williams averaged 13.6 points, 2.5 steals and 2.2 assists in 21 games, according to MaxPreps.com.
Her AAU coach, Kim Powell Davis, described Williams as a prototypical point guard who can do a little bit of everything.
“She’s more of a true point guard, but she can score,” said Davis, the coach and executive director of Essence, a prominent AAU program based in Florida. “She’s very strong with the ball and she’s a tenacious defender — a tenacious defender. But she can shoot the 3 and she can attack and … pull up in the 15-foot area.”
Davis said she first told Brooks about Williams late last summer, but at the time, JMU didn’t have space for a point guard, having signed Amani Tatum. But Taum transferred to Manhattan after her freshman season, creating a need.
JMU also lost Nikki Newman, who played a “point forward” for the Dukes, to graduation. Before Williams’ addition — JMU still hasn’t received her letter of intent, meaning Brooks is prohibited by NCAA rules from talking about her — the Dukes’ in-house point guard options were Angela Mickens and Ashley Perez, a St. John’s transfer who won’t be eligible until the second semester next season.
A third option is Precious Hall, but, with the graduation of Kirby Burkholder, it’s possible the rising junior will shift to shooting guard.
Williams likely will compete with Mickens, a rising junior, for time at point guard.
“They just told me that my playing time is on me, so it depends on how I get in the gym and work,” Williams said. “But they’re not expecting me to come in, first year, and sit. They’re expecting me to give immediate minutes, but my minutes are based on me.”
The relationship between Brooks and Davis is a factor in why Williams, who took an official recruiting visit to Charlotte, picked James Madison. Hall and Destiny Jones, a forward on JMU’s team, both played AAU for Davis, who has coached Essence for 17 years and said she’s known Brooks for the past six.
Davis said players from Williams’ class are going to play at, notably, Auburn, Florida, Mississippi State, Oklahoma and Syracuse.
Williams is the third Essence player Brooks has recruited, and Williams said she’s been aware of JMU since watching Dawn Evans — the Dukes’ former superstar point guard who graduated in 2011 — on TV. That familiarity helped Madison’s cause when Williams reopened her recruitment.
Williams said she decided to seek her release just days after Summitt, the son of former Tennessee coach and women’s basketball icon Pat Summitt, was hired the first week of April.
Louisiana Tech was once a women’s basketball power. The Techsters have won three national championships but none since 1988. They last played in the title game in 1994 and haven’t received a bid to the NCAA tournament since 2011, a drought that led to Weatherspoon’s firing and, subsequently, Williams’ defection after she picked LaTech over a scholarship offer from Wisconsin.
“I really wanted to play for the coach, Coach Weatherspoon,” Williams said. “We had created that relationship and that’s who I really wanted to play for. When she left, it was just kind of like, I don’t know — I didn’t go to Louisiana Tech for Louisiana Tech. I didn’t grow up saying I’ve always wanted to go to Louisiana Tech. I just went there for the coach, but, you know, she ended up getting fired, so I felt like there were better options out there.”