Angel Williams needed a resurrection.
A six-foot center out of Tulsa, Williams joined the Labette women’s basketball program as a freshman in the 2017-18 campaign. She didn’t make it through the first semester, electing to leave the Cardinals at winter break. By the end of that season, Williams asked to be reinstated.
Labette head coach Mitch Rolls put a redshirt on Williams last year as she got her mind and body right. Now with the 2019-20 season upon us, the former college dropout has emerged reinvigorated and poised to be one of the most dominant players in the Kansas Jayhawk Conference.
Coming out of Thomas Edison Preparatory School in Oklahoma, Williams admits she didn’t dedicate enough attention to recruiting.
“At the time, I wasn’t getting much interest,” Williams said. “And I wasn’t focused on my recruiting as much as I should have been.”
She eventually committed to Labette and found herself buried on a depth chart behind eventual NCAA Division I Arkansas State signee Shameka Tubbs.
Williams only appeared in three games prior to leaving the team. Troubles in the classroom were compounded with her constant head-banging efforts to crack the lineup.
“I was still battling myself mentally. I did well the first few months, but the schoolwork caught up to me and I was trying to outwork people above me,” Williams said.
The classroom was the biggest struggle for Williams two years ago. Rolls and his former assistant, Tiffany Conner, dedicated endless resources on Williams to try and correct her academics.
“Her freshman year, her grades weren’t a focus at all for her,” Rolls said. “Grades just weren’t important to her. We were having weekly meetings with her about her grades. We put a lot of pressure on her to stay eligible.”
In three games, Williams surpassed double-digit scoring all three times while also registering a double-double once against Bacone JV. But by December, Williams was out.
“I had stuff back home that was getting in the way,” Williams said. “I was thinking about my family and not focusing on myself here. I wasn’t doing good with my grades, so I felt defeated. I felt at the time that I needed time off.”
Labette finished that year 23-6 and earned a trip to the Region VI Tournament semifinals. When the season ended, Williams was itching to return.
“I wasn’t mentally prepared for college, but I wasn’t ready to give up basketball,” Williams said. “I hadn’t pushed myself. Taking time off helped me prepare mentally.”
Rolls once again challenged Williams to get her grades right. But Williams, who sat out last season with a redshirt, also emphasized correcting her body.
“I couldn’t run up and down the floor,” Williams said. “I couldn’t make times in sprints and I didn’t want to be that person.”
The center radically changed her diet and eventually lost 30 pounds off her frame.
“I really try to eat home-cooked meals,” Williams said. “I only eat chicken and a lot tofu. That was a big change for me. But it’s actually good food.”
Rolls immediately noticed the effect Williams’ weight loss had on her psyche.
“Her personality and energy level throughout the day is different,” Rolls said. “She’s always happy and smiling. We don’t realize how much our diet affects our everyday life. She has a glow about her this year.”
This past summer, with Williams no longer bordering the line of academic eligibility, Rolls took note of her effort during voluntary workouts.
“This summer, I watched her time her own sprints,” Rolls said. “I haven’t had anybody do that since I’ve been here. We pride ourselves on bringing in hard-working kids. But none of them time their own sprints. That was another level to the work ethic she developed. She held herself to a different standard, so I know she’s going to have a huge year.”
Williams had rid herself of the demons that afflicted her as a freshman. She could run the floor, excel in her classes and saw a clear path to playing time.
She also made an effort to learn the game from the bench last year as she endured the rigors of a redshirt campaign.
“Being on the bench, I could see what the coaches were talking about,” Williams said. “I could see how the game works and see it from their perspective.”
Williams finally made her collegiate return on Nov. 2 when the 11th-ranked Cardinals hosted Neosho County in their season opener. Williams got the start at center and posted a double-double with 15 points and 12 rebounds. Labette dominated the game, winning 86-60.
“I was nervous,” Williams said. “I feel like I could’ve done more. But I felt good. I missed the game. I was away from the game for too long.”
While Williams led Labette in scoring, Rolls saw room for more.
“That wasn’t her best game,” Rolls said. “We expect a mediocre game to look like 15 and 12. That’s pretty damn good. But she has the ability to score 30 and get 20 rebounds. Once she gets that, I’ll feel validated.”
Rolls, who has sent nearly every willing graduating sophomore to the four-year level including numerous players to the Div. I level since taking over at Labette, envisions Williams joining the elite ranks next year.
“I put the word out early this summer,” Rolls said. “Every school needs a post player. She got seven Division I schools ask for her number based on film from open gym in the summer. That number has gotten to like 15. She’s going to blow up.”
Labette is one of four nationally-ranked teams in a six-team KJCCC, meaning Williams will have plenty of opportunities to shine with the lights on. But it’s Williams’ revival in the dark that saved her career.
“She grew up and it was a big time wakeup call,” Rolls said. “She went out into the real world and realized what she was missing. It was good for her to clear her mind, get things in order then come back and dominate like she should.”
“I had to grow up,” Williams added. “Now I’m mentally prepared. I’m not beating myself up.”