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The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Excelling in every facet

Photo by C. Morgan Engel

Danni Williams is not just a phenomenal basketball player. 

Growing up in the small town of Clovis, New Mexico, Williams started her athletic career in motocross after she and her brothers were given dirt bikes for Christmas. 

“My dad used to race motocross, so he bought my two older brothers and I bikes,” Williams said. “I loved racing, so I took off with it. I kept getting bigger bikes and I took it more and more serious as I got older.”

At age 9, Williams won the Women’s Motocross Association National Championship in the 10-and-11-year-old category. Williams won it again in the 12-and-13-year-old category when she was only 11 years old. 

“Those two wins still feel amazing because I put so much hard work and training into motocross and I got to see it pay off in the end. It was a really fun experience,” Williams said. 

In high school, Williams turned her attention to basketball. She excelled from the get-go, making the varsity team as a freshman and never looked back.

Williams set the Clovis school scoring record as a sophomore, broke her own record as a junior and again as a senior. Williams led her team to at least the state semifinals each season and won the New Mexico State Championship in 2013.

By the time she graduated, Williams was one of New Mexico’s most decorated women’s basketball high school players. Her resume included three District MVPs, three Gatorade Player of the Year awards, First Team All-State honors and a New Mexico Miss Basketball selection by NM Preps.

“It’s a huge honor to be able to leave a legacy like that, I’m just thankful,” Williams said. “Where I’m from, not many people in my town or even in New Mexico really make it out to a D1 sports school. So I have a lot of pride being from where I’m from.In addition to her immense success in basketball, Williams excelled in volleyball for Clovis, earning First Team All District honors. Williams said being a multi-sport athlete ultimately helped her to succeed in basketball. 

“I think it’s really important to play more than one sport because you can get burned out playing one sport over and over again,” Williams said. “At times, focusing on one sport can not be fun because you’re so focused on being the best, so a second sport can help you to relax.”

On top of being a multi-sport athlete, Williams graduated as the valedictorian of her class of 450 students at Clovis High School. Since coming to Texas A&M, she has also won the team’s Academic Award and been named to the SEC Academic Honor Roll in her freshman and sophomore seasons, a testament to how serious she approaches academics. 

“She’s always in Bright [Athletic Complex], always making sure her work is done,” senior center Khaalia Hillsman said. “That’s really something that I admire about her, because sometimes athletes tend to drift away from the academic part of student athlete and that’s been a really strong point of emphasis for her.”

A five-star recruit, Williams was rated the seventh-best guard in the 2015 class by ESPN. By her senior year, Williams narrowed her recruitment down to Kansas, Baylor and A&M. Williams said she was ultimately lured to A&M by head coach Gary Blair and his staff, in tandem with A&M’s strong academic programs. 

“I chose A&M because it’s in the SEC,” Williams said. “I believe the SEC is the best conference for women’s basketball. I also believe in Coach Blair and his staff. They’re very experienced and I want to be a coach when I’m older. With their experience, I’m developing as a player and learning new things about being a coach at the same time.”

Williams enrolled at A&M in 2015 and Blair immediately realized he would not have to put much effort into making her feel more confident at the collegiate level. 

“She’s always been a fearless leader and a lot of that goes back to when she was doing motocross,” Blair said. “She had to go against guys that were older than her and she just has that no-fear attitude. She has that twinkle in her eye that says, ‘Bring it on.’”

Also working in her favor during her freshman year was Williams’ relationship with standout center Khaalia Hillsman, who is one year ahead of Williams. 

“She’s helped a lot throughout the years,” Williams said. “We both understand that we need each other to be successful on the court. Our relationship is stronger than ever because of the understanding that we benefit each other every game.” 

Despite her confidence and strong relationship with teammates, there was still an adjustment period for Williams during her freshman year. She played in all 32 her freshman year. She played in all 32 games, but averaged just 9.8 minutes per game.

With an increased role, Williams had a breakout sophomore season, averaging 16.6 points and starting all 34 games for the Aggies. Williams’ jump from 3.1 points per game in her freshman year to 16.6 in her sophomore season was the largest season-to-season jump in A&M history. 

Following her sophomore season, Williams went on a tour through Spain with the A&M women’s basketball team during the summer of 2017. The trip was particularly impactful for Williams as she has intentions to play professional basketball overseas after her fourth year as an Aggie. 

“It was a culture shock for sure — the types of food, the different types of people,” Williams said. “It was really helpful to me because I want to play basketball overseas and to see what life is like in another culture was cool.”

Williams has picked up where she left off from her sophomore season and is off to a phenomenal start this year. So far she is averaging 15 points per game and is tied for fifth in the SEC in three-point shots made through 19 games. 

The A&M squad appears to be primed for a deep tournament run. However, Williams insists she does not concentrate on that. Rather she focuses on the current task at hand: SEC play. 

“I think we have the potential to go further than the last two years, but we’re just going to take it one game at a time because we know how tough the SEC is,” Williams said. 

After this season, Williams will have completed her degree in sports management in just three years. Williams will use her fourth year of eligibility next year as she begins to work on her master’s in sports management in the fall. 

“She’s ahead of the curve. When you go into coaching and have a master’s by your name, [she] can do whatever she wants, whether it’s college or high school coaching,” Blair said. 

Post-college, Williams plans to play professional basketball overseas and then start a career in coaching. Blair said he has no doubts about Williams’ future plans.

“She’ll definitely have the option to play overseas, if not in the WNBA, and that’s the dream of all athletes,” Blair said. “Every athlete thinks they’re going to the league and that’s great. I want them to have that dream, but I want them to do something about that dream and Danni’s done that.”

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    Photo by C. Morgan Engel
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