Florida forward Ronni Williams, who became the first Gator in program history to lead the SEC in scoring with 20.1 points per league game, was voted First-Team All-SEC, the league announced Tuesday. [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]
All-SEC Ronni Williams: It's about family
There is nothing more important to Ronni Williams than family.
Without her family’s motivation, she would not have become the baller she is today; her teammates would have looked at her differently; her opponents would have prepared variously.
As her collegiate basketball career comes to a close at Florida, the senior forward broke from one her last team practices to reflect on how her support system has shaped her as the leader her team often depends on.
“It’s bittersweet,” Williams said. “I’m moving on to the next chapter of my life, but then again I'm leaving behind great people.”
The hurdle is nothing new to Williams.
At age 3, Williams picked up a basketball for the first time. She was on a court with her dad, who coached kids ages 4 through 6.
Her father, Rodney Williams, a former UF basketball player in the 1980s, gave into his toddler’s frequent requests and decided to let her play, too.
“My dad was always around basketball and I always wanted to be around him,” Williams said.
That was the beginning.
Soon, Williams joined summer and YMCA leagues, and at 8 years old joined a boys' league. Playing with boys often kept her in foul trouble, she said, something she admits to struggling with today. But it taught her how to be tough.
At 13, Williams joined a travel league.
Williams, then attending Atlantic High School in Port Orange, said she would travel from Daytona Beach to Orlando every day after school for those practices.
The demand was tiresome for Williams, who said she often thought about quitting the sport after missing countless family gatherings and time with friends.
“You go through things as a child,” Williams said. “You go through a lot of adversity, and it’s not what you thought it would be. I had to sacrifice a lot.”
Unlike some families, Williams said she never received a guilt trip for missing out on family events.
“My family is very supportive,” she said. “They saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself, yet.”
Her first college scholarship offer came from UF when she was in eighth grade, she said, but still heard from other universities, including Maryland, Miami, Florida State and Duke, as her skills developed.
Coming out of high school, Williams, standing 6-foot-1, was ranked a five-star athlete, No. 13 in the nation and No. 1 in the state, according to ESPN.com.
The decision was easy for Williams.
“My family has always been a Gator family,” she said. “I wanted to stay in the state of Florida. I wanted to create my own legacy. I wanted to start something at a university that’s never been done before.”
During her time at UF, Williams has broken several records and is the team’s leading scorer and rebounder for the last two seasons.
She has recorded 1,451 career points, making her one of the school’s all-time leading scorers, while also snagging 801 rebounds. Williams, who became the first Gator to lead the Southeastern Conference in scoring with 20.1 points per game, was voted First-Team All-SEC for the first time Tuesday.
Coach Amanda Butler recently said at a news conference that she has watched Williams evolve throughout her career and is amazed by Williams’ dedication to the sport.
“I think she’s rare,” Butler said.
But a modest Williams was quick to reflect the credit onto those who have groomed her.
Williams said she considers her team family, too, and looks up to her coaches as role models who have helped her become a better leader over the years.
"I love being in a position where I can help and guide younger girls," Williams said, "because I was once in their shoes."
On Sunday, Williams played her final home game at UF on Senior Day.
She said about 300 relatives and friends turned out for the occasion, many who had yet to see her play for the Gators.
It was the first time Williams had her entire family in the same building — and she didn’t disappoint.
Williams scored 31 points and led the Gators to a 65-58 win against Georgia.
After the game, Butler and several players praised Williams for all she has done for the program and the impact she had on younger players.
“She’s my MVP,” Butler said.
The Gators play a first-round game with Arkansas in the SEC Tournament Wednesday. Williams said she plans to prepare for the WNBA draft following the tournament.
“For my experience, I can say Ronni Williams is somebody that I look up to,” said freshman guard Delicia Washington, who was named SEC Co-Freshman of the Year on Tuesday. “I’m glad I got the chance to play with her.”
Contact reporter Andrew Caplan at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @AACaplan.
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