Full Court Press: Jaida Williams Brings Energy, Enthusiasm and Inspiration to Lady Chants Basketball

By Connie Barnard

Full Court Press: Jaida Williams Brings Energy, Enthusiasm and Inspiration to Lady Chants Basketball

Jaida Williams’ stunning presence lights up any room she enters. First, there is her elegant six foot frame – which is hard to miss. Even more striking, however, is the new CCU Women’s Basketball coach’s marvelous smile which reflects genuine joy from deep within her. A phenomenal athlete in her own right, this dedicated young coach clearly has the potential to become a national leader in women’s basketball. Sarah Smoak, the team’s assistant coach and recruiting coordinator who arrived this year from Duke, says of Williams: “A good coach can change a game; a great coach can change a life. Jaida is beyond a game changer, she is a life changer…I have never seen a coach more invested in her students.”

Williams grew up in Miami where she thrived in its warm sunshine, diverse mix of cultures, and happy childhood in a close knit family. Even today, her best friend is her father from whom Jaida received her height and natural athletic ability. During her first two years of college, Williams played at nearby Barry University, a highly respected parochial liberal arts college. Then an amazing opportunity presented itself. Jaida was recruited to play on the national level at Cal Poly Pomona. There, under the leadership of Coach Paul Thomas, the 2005 graduate led her team to the NCAA Division II Regional Tournament.

Thomas, currently the women’s basketball coach at St. Mary’s College of California, has remained Jaida’s close friend and mentor. He describes his former player as a quick study who arrived at Cal Poly her junior year in the wake of Cal Poly’s victory in the national championship: “It was a totally different culture. Most of the team members were Southern California kids, and Jaida inserted her own personality and strong work ethic into the mix. She learned to pay attention to details and rose to the top. I appreciate that.” Thomas also appreciates Williams’ ability to coach. “Jaida has the personality it takes. She cares, and she helps her players realize their potential. Young players don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

Williams coached at Iowa, South Florida, UC Santa Barbara, and most recently, Wake Forest, where she served as assistant coach before coming to Coastal Carolina in 2013. She also worked with Ganon Baker Basketball, training WNBA players as a skill development coordinator. Among the well-known WNBA players she coached are stand-outs Mekia Valentine, Crystal Smith and Jessica Dixon. Jaida has high hopes for the future of women’s professional basketball in the U.S., but she acknowledges the challenges it faces. “Unfortunately, at the current time due to financial constraints, many of our best players are going to leagues overseas.”

Full Court Press: Jaida Williams Brings Energy, Enthusiasm and Inspiration to Lady Chants Basketball

Clearly, Jaida Williams has accomplished much in a short time, both as a coach and an athlete. However, these feats are just one segment of her profile. The young coach possesses an uncommon gentleness and generosity of spirit as well. She cares about her players and wants to help them grow strong not just as athletes but also as young women. Jaida credits this to the influence of several remarkable individuals. One is Iowa head coach Lisa Bluder with whom she worked in her first coaching position, just out of college. “Lisa was a wonderful influence on my life,” Williams says. “She has managed to balance her job with her family life and her personal growth. This was just the perspective I needed after the intensity of playing college ball. I try to follow her example.”

An avid reader with a degree in journalism, Jaida says the works of award winning Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche have also had a great influence on her life. Author of the novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun, Adichie espouses a view which Williams describes as positive feminism, a concept she tries to pass on to her players. “These young women are so talented, and most have enjoyed strong family and community support. Yet somehow I need to help convince them that, yes, they CAN do it. Coaching is a way to empower them to have a voice, to go out into the world and achieve great things. We need to be spiritually connected in order to achieve physically.”

When asked about her recent move to CCU, Williams’ smiling face says it all. “It is a dream come true,” she says. “I love the state of South Carolina, and I am excited by all the potential Coastal has. If we work hard, in a few years we could do what U Conn and USC Santa Barbara have done. Look at all Sylvia Hatchell accomplished at Francis Marion. She helped gain national titles for a small, relatively unknown school.” Jaida pauses ever so slightly before acknowledging that, well, yes, it may take a few years. Then with that ever-winning smile, she adds, “But if we build it, they will come.”

As the interview concludes, I dare to throw one final question at the busy young woman: “So, tell me, Jaida, where would you like to be personally and professionally ten years from now?” She laughs, looks out the window for a moment, then replies, “Personally, I would like to be married with children! Professionally, I’d like to be a part of CCU’s Women’s Basketball becoming a national contender. It can happen. Look at what the football program has done in just a few years. Our players work hard, and it is going to come. I encourage the community to be a part of it. Come join us. Help build it from the ground up. We would love for you to say that you were part of the journey from Day One.”

When doors open up for you – you have to RUN right through them. As a matter of fact…don’t even wipe your feet off. You have got to leave a mark and let them know you were there.

About this writer

  • Connie BarnardConnie Barnard traveled the world as a military wife and taught high school and college composition for over 30 years. She has been a regular contributor to Sasee since its first issue in 2002.

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