This column continues into 2019 the Only One series in which this reporter shares his experiences as one of the only African American journalists on the scene.
What a week to start the New Year — in the MIAC!
The first workday and the second actual day of 2019, we traveled to St. Paul, inside Hamline’s historic Hutton Arena for a scheduled women’s basketball game between the host Pipers and visiting St. Mary’s.
With 25 seconds remaining, St. Mary’s led by seven, but Hamline staged a Reggie Miller performance, knocked down three treys and won by one at the buzzer. The Only One had previously scheduled an interview with St. Mary’s Assistant Coach Natalie Williams for after the contest, win or lose.
Williams returns to her alma mater as first-year Head Coach David Foley’s top assistant. She was the only Black coach on either bench that night.
Williams is fully aware of how competitive the MIAC can be. “I really appreciate what I learned here as a student-athlete,” the 2015 grad and Chicago native said. Now back in the league but as a coach, she added, “I enjoyed my four years here. It was an easy decision to come back.”
The first-year assistant coach was a St. Mary’s student manager for three years, then played on the team her senior year. She made the All-MIAC Sportsmanship team and graduated with a degree in sport management.
After she left St. Mary’s, Williams became a University of Minnesota-Duluth graduate assistant women’s basketball coach, then worked for the WNBA’s Chicago Sky as an account executive before returning to the Winona, Minnesota private college last year.
“My main responsibility as an assistant coach most importantly is to support our players,” Williams explained. “I’m pretty sure that as time goes by my role will have more responsibility.”
But becoming a coach, Williams pointed out, was never in her career plans. “To be honest with you, I never saw myself as a coach. The thought did not come to me until someone asked me to become a graduate assistant.”
“I was pretty active as a student manager,” Williams responded when told that being a student manager is good preparation for a coaching career if that’s what one wants. “Now that I think about it, it seems right that I wanted to be [in coaching].
“I love basketball. I love mentoring women. I love player development.”
Williams sits in the middle of the St. Mary’s bench during games, an unusual spot for coaches. “It actually was the head coach’s idea,” she admitted. “Once I did it, I like it because I get to talk to the players easily… I have their ear.”
Her year with her hometown Sky, when her main role was primarily helping the team’s growth and exposure in Chicagoland, also gave Williams a worldview of the inner workings of pro sport. “I love women’s basketball. I love the WNBA. That is a dream job,” she recalled of her front-office experience.
Asked if she looks to one day become a head coach, Williams responded, “I don’t know. I like coaching. I’m just enjoying my time right now.”
Charles Hallman is a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org