February 5, 2008 - by
As Tough As The Come

Feb. 5, 2008

It’s been quite a week for Florida State guard Shante Williams. Last night she had her number 22 jersey retired at Jacksonville’s Ribault High School – along with former teammate and LSU guard Erica White. She needs only seven more assists to become the school’s career leader and tonight she leads her team into one of the biggest non-conference home games in a long time.

Retiring her high school jersey was a no-brainer given her tremendous career. During her four years at Ribault, Williams led the squad to four state titles and a 143-3 record. She earned numerous All-America accolades, including a McDonald’s honor her senior year, and was a two-time Gatorade Florida Player of the Year.

“It’s a great accomplishment to know that I’ve left a mark there and I can always go back and have memories,” Williams said. “Some great players have come before me and had their jerseys retired and I feel honored to be in their company.”

The pursuit of the Florida State all-time assist record has been Williams’ destiny since she joined the team in 2003. From the first day that she set foot in the gym, she was given the task of running the Seminoles’ offense. Such a challenge is rarely handed over to a freshman in such a competitive league like the ACC, but if anyone was poised to do it, it was Williams.

Her freshman year she burst onto the scene, earning Honorable Mention All-ACC and ACC All-Freshman honors by finishing second in the league at 5.1 assists per game. Her total of 154 assists that year is the third-highest single-season total in school history.

Coming off a redshirt year in 2004-05, it took Williams a whole season to come back as she only played an average of 16.6 minutes per game as a sophomore and only handed out 56 assists. By comparison she has dished out 56 coming into tonight’s game.

Last season she was closer to being in the form that made her one of the top players in the league. Williams shared the distribution duties with Mara Freshour, but still managed to hand out a team-high 116 assists for a rate of 3.7 apg., which ranked her ninth in the ACC. This season she’s dishing out 4.0 and nearly broke the single-game record with 13 assists against Alabama State.

“I take it one game at a time,” Williams noted. “If I get the record that’s great, but I’ve got more games to get it. I want to get it against LSU because I have a lot of family and friends here and they can celebrate it with me, but more importantly I just want the win.”

All of the accolades that Williams has received and the milestones she about to accomplish – in addition to breaking the assists record, she needs 114 more points to becoming the newest member of the FSU 1,000-point club – almost didn’t happen.

Even though she’s was only a junior eligibility wise, Williams finished her fourth year of school last year and was near completion of her degree in criminology. She redshirted her sophomore year for the birth of her son George.

Even though she only stands at 5-foot-7, Williams is one of the most physical players in the conference. Fearless with the ball, she is not afraid to drive the lane and get knocked down by bigger post players.

Three years of physical play and nine months of pregnancy had taken a toll on her body. By the end of the 2006-07 season she was running at barely 50 percent with an injured left hip. Given all these factors, it’s easy to see how Williams could have hung up her jersey and started the next phase of her life.

At the end of the season, Williams sat down and weighed the positive aspects of coming back versus the negatives. Swaying her decision to come back was a desire to have one more year to make an impression on WNBA scouts, head coach Sue Semrau – whom Williams said she became closer to this year because Semrau had a similar surgery on her hip over the summer – and several phone calls from incoming freshman Courtney Ward, who is Williams’ heir apparent. Williams said she wants to teach Ward as much as possible before she leaves.

Regardless if she was going to play again or not, Williams was going to have to have surgery to repair her hip. The doctors told her she had the hip of a 40-year-old woman and at some point may have to have the hip replaced.

In May she had arthroscopic surgery on her hip where the doctors shaved down the bone on her hip to remove a bone spur around the femur and prevent further damage to the cartilage.

It’s conceivable for a normal person to take up to a year to be fully recovered from such a surgery, but Williams is far from your average person. She went through an intense rehabilitation process, sometimes visiting the training room three times a day. The rehab was tough on her physically and on the home front.

“It was very difficult because he’s so young and he didn’t understand why mom couldn’t pick him up,” Williams said of her son. “As time went on I started to regain my strength and he realized that mom was getting old and I can’t do the things I used to do.”

With six months until the start of the season, she spent six weeks on crutches and wasn’t allowed to run until five months post surgery. However, when the first day of practice began on October 12 she out there with her teammates at a limited pace and was ready to go for the season opener at Florida Gulf Coast.

“Having a child wasn’t as bad as everyone tried to make it seem,” Williams admitted. “My hip is more painful because it’s on-going process. When you have a baby, you have that pain, but in a couple of hours it’s gone, but the pain with my hip is going to be there the rest of my life.”

Regardless of when she breaks the record or the number of accolades Williams racks up, at the end of her career, she will go down as one of the strongest players thas has ever worn the Garnet & Gold.

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