By Allie Burger
Kaitlyn Williams wanted McDonald’s.
At 8 years old, she was afraid to shoot the ball and made a deal with her parents that a few games into her first season, she would finally take a shot in exchange for a Happy Meal. She found herself lined up for a corner three, chucked the ball up and watched it ricochet off the side of the backboard.
Williams recalled the crowd let out a collective sigh. The memory served to motivate her to become a better shooter.
“The whole crowd was like, ‘Oh!’” Williams said. “My first shot ever playing basketball and right after that I was like, ‘Okay, I want to play basketball, I have to be good.’”
Fast forward, Williams has established herself as the team’s go-to shooter in her freshman season and is one of the most-accomplished young talent in the conference. From mid-November to early December, she had six consecutive games with multiple threes and has already been named Missouri Valley Conference Newcomer of the Week twice—despite her team’s 2-16 season record.
Williams’ transition from fast food-driven shooter to kick-out queen has been a long process. She decided early on that she wanted to excel at basketball and began working with shooting specialist and former Missouri State player Annie Roberts in sixth grade.
Over a four-year span, Roberts worked with Kaitlyn during hour-long training sessions, two to four times a week, building her shot from the stance up.
“At the young age, we really worked on muscle memory and training her body,” Roberts said. “As she got older and started developing more muscles, we started getting back to the 3-point line.”
At the end of each session, the two would have a 3-point competition. Roberts had never been beaten by a student before Williams, who bested her “a handful of times.”
“I just kept working, trying to beat her,” Williams said. “The competition made me better because I knew I had to be in the gym more just so I could beat her.”
Williams’ competitive nature, which she attributes largely to those end-of-session shoot-arounds, has greatly contributed to her abilities with Loyola this season.
“She has that hungriness about her,” teammate Katie Salmon said. “If you’re going to hit someone who is open for a three, you want it to be her. If she’s open, she’s knocking it down.”
But defenses are starting to warm up to her game, causing her and her teammates to adjust in getting her the ball.
Coach Kate Achter says the team needs “more screens” and for Williams to add speed changes to her game.
“Anything we can do to put the defense in a position to make a mistake before Kaitlyn touches the ball,” Achter said. “As we get deeper into conference, everyone knows what Kaitlyn’s going to do so she’s going to have to work a little harder, and we are too, to find her some shots.”
Williams is currently working with each coach on the staff trying to improve elements of her game. Though she is enjoying her early success, she says it is just the launching point for her college career.
“I still have a ton to work on because the transformation from high school just sitting there and shooting to learning how to hunt for my shots in college is totally different,” Williams said. “I want to work on my mid-range a little more. I have the shot; it’s just getting off the screen with my ball handling.”
Achter says one of the biggest tests for Williams moving forward won’t be on her physical skills, but on her mental ones.
“I think Kaitlyn’s got one of the quickest releases in our league … [She] can shoot the stinkin’ ball,” Achter said. “But, being a college shooter is one of the most difficult positions to play … You’ve got to be the most resilient because you miss shots when it’s your job. So how do you handle that? That’s what we’ve been working with Kaitlyn on … If she can do that, I think she can find her way as one of the top five shooters in the league.”
For now, Williams is focused on the next opponent. The Ramblers face off at home against her former skills coach’s alma mater, Missouri State, on Jan. 27.
Roberts will be up in the stands at Gentile Arena to watch the game. Reminiscing on their early Saturday morning workouts over the years, she has no doubt that Williams will continue to find success in the league.
“Her work ethic is awesome … probably one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Roberts said. “You can coach the skills, but you can’t coach determination and drive—that’s something you have to have within and she definitely has that.”