In The Paint with DePaul's Natasha Williams

Kingston, Jamaica, is 1766 miles from Chicago. And it was in Kingston where DePaul senior center Natasha Williams' mom first began playing netball, a game similar to basketball but without a backboard. "My mom played net ball and told me she was horrible," Williams said.

After the Williams family migrated to the United States in 1990, Williams started playing the version that does use a backboard. "I started playing basketball on the playground with my brothers. One of my friends told me I should get serious and play organized ball, so in the fifth grade I said I would try it, and after that it was over; I fell in love with playing basketball."

Williams enrolled at Niles North H.S. in Skokie, IL. It did not take long for her love of the game to evolve into greatness of the game. As a junior at Niles North, she averaged 15 points and 11 rebounds per game in leading the Lady Vikings to the fourth place finish in the Illinois class AA state tournament.

Her coach at Niles North, Joel Kessler, said this about his budding star: "She's good, real good- and scarily getting better every day."

And while she was busy her senior year averaging 16.4 points, 10.7 rebounds, 4.6 blocks, becoming the school's leader in points scored, rebounding, and blocked shots, and being named a Parade Magazine Fourth Team All-America, college recruiters were also busy.

The 6'3" Williams chose Minnesota over Iowa, Purdue, DePaul, and defending national champion Connecticut, which got into the mix in late summer.

She averaged 8.2 points and 3.8 rebounds per game during her sophomore year under Minnesota coach Pam Bolton and was named the Golden Gopher's Most Improved Player. She played in all 29 games with 14 starts while shooting 57% from the field. She was an Academic All-Big Ten honoree. But despite a solid athletic and academic showing at Minnesota, Williams decided to transfer.

Exit Minnesota, enter DePaul.

Demons' head coach Doug Bruno reiterated at the time of the transfer what he felt during his initial recruitment of Williams: "She was a recruiting priority as a senior at Niles North. She brings a great post presence along with excellent athleticism up and down the court. Natasha is also an excellent defender and shot blocker."

And as every college transfer knows, there is that year called "sitting out under NCAA transfer guidelines." Williams spoke about what she felt during that year: "It was a long year sitting out. It hit me the hardest during games where our team was not doing so well and just feeling that I could not play because I was sitting out due to the rule, but I was able to play."

After sitting out the 2006-07 season Williams immediately made her presence felt in the 2007-08 season opener as DePaul defeated Southern Illinois 78-63. She finished the night with 13 points, 11 rebounds, and seven blocked shots, narrowly missing DePaul's first triple double since Diana Vines accomplished that feat in 1989. Williams went on that year to average 10.0 ppg and 6.5 rpg. She carried over from Minnesota her academic prowess, being named to the Big East All-Academic team.

At the end of each season, DePaul basketball coaches sit down with each player and discuss the player's personal goals for the following year. For Williams, it was about "growing mentally in the game. I know that I can score and finish, but (in my junior year) I was not mentally able to finish. I told myself to go out there and play good (my senior year) and to become a dominant force. It all started pre-season of having the mentality of focusing and going hard all the time. It has paid off because I am in a good state of mind."

And going hard all the time has not been just on the offensive end, but also defensively. Bruno has routinely assigned Williams the task of guarding the opponent's best player, be it a center, forward or guard.

"I really take it personally when people score on me. Being a competitor, I take the challenge that coach has put on me to play the best player on the other team and reduce her touches or make her earn every point she gets. I take it as a challenge and try to execute it as best I can."

And as one who has participated for two years in the wars that are Big East basketball games, Williams has been eager to share that experience with the four freshmen on this year's Demons' squad. "I try to be in the ears of the freshmen and tell them the things that I have seen being in the Big East conference. The Big East is a beast. It is not for the weak and it's not for the faint of heart. You have to go out there and compete."

Kessler's comments about Williams during her junior year at Niles North have proven prophetic, as Williams enjoys a stellar senior year at DePaul averaging 15.1 ppg and 6.9 rpg to go along with the fourth best field goal percentage in the nation at 63%. She achieved her fifth double-double of the year when she had 27 points and 10 rebounds in a win against then-#19 Pittsburgh, and she scored 21 points in the team's recent loss to #1 Connecticut.

And while her offensive play sparkled against Pitt, her head coach had this to say after the game about her defensive play: "Natasha is having a special season for DePaul University. With her height, she has the ability to guard the post, and her athleticism makes it possible for her to guard the perimeter."

The Pitt and UConn games were part of the most difficult stretch of this season for the Blue Demons as they played four ranked teams in consecutive games.

"The competition of (those) four games definitely helps us," Williams said. "Those games definitely helped us play with the physicality of the Big East and in learning to be tough. That has been true with our freshman in learning how hard you have to play and how strong you have to be when you get out there. It has helped us in going through the rest of the season. It will help us in building momentum and becoming a stronger team."

So what comes after DePaul for Williams? Not the WNBA.

Williams, who obtained her undergraduate degree in Communications and Culture in the summer of 2008, is currently working on her Master's degree in Multiculturalism and Communications.

"Deciding not to try and play in the WNBA is going to be the toughest question asked of me after the season. I am ready to move on. I am looking to get into diversity training and taking my degree and working in multiculturalism. When you grow, you are ready to move on, and I know that. I have been thinking about it for the last three years and I have made my decision to move on."

And that decision probably best epitomizes Natasha Williams: getting better every day.

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