by Daniel Olsen
Since February is Black History Month, we will be focusing on the great black players in the sports history of the Beehive State. This week’s feature is Natalie Williams.
There have been several black athletes in state history that we have highlighted this month: Karl Malone, Manny Hendrix and Ron Boone. Utah is a predominantly white state and there is a ten year Utah residency requirement to be in consideration for the Utah Sports Hall of Fame. There have been several female athletes selected in the Hall of Fame. However, there are very few black female athletes that have been highlighted in state history. Natalie Williams is one who has stood out at the high school and professional level in Utah. Not only was she a two sport athlete (volleyball and basketball) but she starred for two programs in Utah (Taylorsville High School/Utah Starzz).
Williams was born in California and attended high school in Taylorsville, a small community in Salt Lake County. She is the daughter of former NBA player Nate Williams. He played nine seasons for four franchises and was also well known in the state for his time in Logan. He was a member of the Utah State Aggies basketball team (1969-1971). His athleticism carried over to his daughter, who was 6’2″ and could play the forward position. She led the Taylorsville High Warriors to state championships in volleyball and basketball her senior year.
College at UCLA
Williams was recruited heavily and chose the UCLA Bruins for their rich history in basketball and volleyball. She played both sports in all four years of college. She helped lead the volleyball team to national titles in 1990 and 1991. She finished her senior year averaging over 23 points per game and tallied 1813 points in her career. While Williams excelled at volleyball, basketball was her primary sport.
WNBA: Star in the making
Williams was selected with the third overall pick by the Utah Starzz in the 1999 WNBA Draft. It was a satisfying moment to be drafted by her hometown team. During her time as a member of the Starzz, Williams collected plenty of individual and team accolades. She was a four-time WNBA All-Star and All-WNBA selection. She also was the ABL MVP in 1998 before that league disbanded. After a stellar rookie season with 18 points and 9.2 rebounds per game, Williams was selected to play in the 2000 Summer Olympics in Sydney, Australia. The USA team took home the gold and Williams was a key contributor. She also helped win the World Cup in 1998 and 2002 for Team USA.
Leaving her legacy
Williams was selected as the Pac-10 Athlete of the Decade and Utah Woman Athlete of the Century for her illustrious career. Williams was a pioneer for women’s sports in Utah and still coaches to this day. She currently coaches for the Natalie Williams Basketball Academy and continues to give back to the sport. While the Starzz no longer play in Salt Lake City, basketball fans should still remember the great career that Williams had both in high school and WNBA in the Beehive State.
Featured image via Jeff Gross / Allsport / Getty Images