Following the Princeton Tigers' first home game of the season, a couple of individuals in the stands at Jadwin Gym praised the play of Howland-graduate Taylor Williams to Tigers' coach Courtney Banghart.
Waiting for the players and coaches to come out, Banghart heard descriptions of how Williams "looked like a completely different player." And while Banghart may not entirely agree, she admitted Williams has had a marked improvement from last season.
"I think that might be slightly overstated, but pretty close both in terms of her skill development and her body, in terms of her fitness and strength, but also in her confidence," Banghart said. "She went from being a piece to being a really important part of the whole this year."
Williams, a sophomore, has definitely played a bigger part for the Tigers (7-4) during the first portion of the 2013-2014 season.
Through 11 games, the 6-foot-3 forward has already recorded more points (84) and grabbed more rebounds (35) than during her freshman year. She's also averaging 13 minutes more per game on the floor for Princeton.
Banghart said Williams has shown the most improvement out of a group of five sophomores for which she has high expectations.
Taylor Williams, Princeton
Alma Mater: Howland, 2012
The skinny:?Currently averaging 7.6 PPG and 3.2 RPG. ... Shooting 66.7 percent from the field this season. ... Shooting 74.1 percent from the free-throw line. ... Averaging 18.9 minutes per game coming off the bench.
"Taylor is the poster child for that (the sophomores' improvement)," Banghart said. "She played among the least of the group last year, and she's every bit as important as every one of them now. She's had the biggest transformation, for sure, and is the focal point. We play from the inside-out. You need your inside game to be good, and she has made us really good inside."
What motivated Williams between her freshman and sophomore season? Simply, she saw an opportunity to play.
Princeton graduated four starters from the previous season when the Tigers went 22-7, won the Ivy League and earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost their first-round matchup with Florida State, 60-44. Three of those starters, including two-time Ivy League Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed, were four-year starters.
With all the openings in the lineup, Williams, the Howland record holder in career points and rebounds, pounced on the opportunity, working hard all summer long to improve her game in hopes of contributing more to the team's cause.
"We knew going into this season we were going to need some key players step up and fill the positions that we had lost," Williams said. "A lot of my time this past summer was spent training with various coaches and playing pickup (basketball) with different boys' teams in the area just to kind of improve and prepare myself to step up into that position."
That hard work has resulted in a role as the team's sixth man. Banghart said the team can rely on Williams to put forth the same effort every night on both the offensive and defensive ends of the floor.
"I would say Taylor's been one of our most consistent contributors," Banghart said. "She's someone we really count on. She's the first kid off the bench. I think her impact has been remarkably consistent on a night-to-night basis."
Although Williams has been Ms. Consistent, one of her best performances of the year came in the Tigers' 110-90 loss at Oregon on Dec. 1.
The post player was two rebounds away from a double-double, going for 11 points and eight rebounds in the losing effort. Williams said she enjoyed playing on Oregon's court, which has an intricate design, and she also said her effort was the culmination of her offseason program.
"Having a successful game that was one of our more important games, it's kind of just a constant reminder of whatever work you put in will come out," Williams said. "Even though the outcome didn't go our way, it's reassuring to see that success will come and confidence and hard-work are something that needs to be consistently be built up so improvement can keep coming."
Whether that hard work and dedication leads to a starting role remains to be seen, but Williams said she isn't worried about the lack of starts. Instead, she just wants to do whatever helps her team.
"Looking into that as of now is not necessarily one of the most important things for me," Williams said. "Coming into the season, I knew what kind of role I would be taking on, and at this point with the success we've been having, I'm more than happy to take any position that benefits the needs of the team."