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Changing sports

Basketball player's dream finally comes true

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Latest: Thursday August 17, 2000 04:00 PM

 

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colorado (AP) -- Four years after being among the final players cut from the U.S. Olympic volleyball team, Natalie Williams is poised to fulfill her dream next month in Sydney -- on the U.S. basketball team.

"I just see myself as a basketball player," Williams said before practice Wednesday. "It seems weird that I did all that volleyball training and was so focused on volleyball because now I'm completely focused on basketball. I don't even miss playing volleyball at all."

Williams, twice named national volleyball player of the year at UCLA, wasted little time spiking the sport after she was cut by the U.S. national team in the weeks leading up to the Summer Games in Atlanta.

Two weeks after her disappointing release, USA Basketball selected Williams to play on the 1996 Jones Cup team that included current Olympic team members Katie Smith and Kara Wolters.

Despite a two-year absence from competitive basketball, Williams made a smooth return by averaging 9.1 points and 7.0 rebounds in nine games with the gold medal-winning Jones Cup team.

"For an athlete to play at the elite level in two different sports is pretty phenomenal," U.S. basketball coach Nell Fortner said. "She's very driven. That's helped her to be at that level in both of those sports."

Williams honed her ability to cross over from volleyball to basketball during her collegiate days. Volleyball kept her attention after college before breaking her heart in 1996. The U.S. team failed to earn a medal in Atlanta.

"I didn't watch the games," the 6-foot-2 (188-centimeter) Williams said. "The hardest part was watching the opening ceremonies -- watching them walk in."

Williams said she harbors no ill feelings toward USA Volleyball and said the experience probably helped her achieve success on the basketball court.

"Volleyball is all about jumping and getting off the ground quickly to block or to spike," she said. "I've taken that into basketball, especially timing-wise, knowing when the ball is going to come off the rim and where it's going to come off."

Her accomplishments with USA Basketball led to a pioneering role in the now-defunct American Basketball League and a career in the WNBA. Playing for her hometown team, the Utah Starzz, Williams averaged 18 points and 9.2 rebounds in 1999.

Utah officials thought enough of Williams to name her the state's athlete of the century, and she will add to her growing list of achievements when the 2000 Games open Sept. 15.

As for volleyball, it will remain a recreational sport reserved for backyard barbecues and occasional days on the beach.

"Volleyball's done," Williams said. "This is it for me - basketball and my career in the WNBA."


 
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