Some of Sun fans' loudest cheers are reserved for Courtney Williams
Mohegan — Opposing player introductions, cues for public disdain in many basketball arenas, are occasionally volcanic — cheerfully so — at Mohegan Sun Arena. Most former UConn players, even though they’re playing against the home team, are showered with acclaim, moments mostly met with eyerolls from Connecticut Sun players.
But this is how they roll in Neon Uncasville. They always leave the light on for all the former jousters for Geno, who provided highlight clips, Final Four trips and championships, happier days than perhaps the Sun have ever authored.
This is also why Courtney Williams, the Sun’s gutty little speedball, has become so conspicuous. Go figure. A non-UConn heathen as the fan favorite? The loudest cheers, louder than even for Morgan Tuck, for a South Florida graduate? In Connecticut, where they believe their UConn girls don’t curse, belch or run with scissors?
This is news.
And perhaps the best evidence yet of Williams’ complete infectiousness, which, as you will read, extends beyond the fans and into the Sun locker room.
Courtney Williams to the fans: plays with the perpetual smile. More energy than Con Edison. Magnetic demeanor. And, yes, makes frequent baskets.
Courtney Williams to her teammates: foil for the jokes. No. 1 needler. And with a lexicon all her own, to their everlasting entertainment.
“That’s our person,” teammate Chiney Ogwumike says.
“The comic relief,” teammate Jasmine Thomas says. “Sometimes by accident.”
“The fans, they’re starting to feel me a lot more this year,” Williams says. “For sure. Hey, I think I’m a likeable person. Out there having fun. I talk to the fans as much as I can while I’m out there playing. If I hear my name, I try to acknowledge it. I mean, these fans are loyal. They always come out. Rain, snow, sun.”
Venus and Serena, clearly more famous athletes named Williams, surely have extraordinary resumes.
Bet they don’t have their own language, though.
Who knew the Sun would be so happy to engage in Courtneyspeak?
“They’re used to how I talk now,” Williams says, as the concepts of twang and drawl run a crossing pattern. “They know my terminologies. But at the beginning all they said to me was, ‘Sorry, but what did you say?’”
Williams hails from Folkston, Ga. They speak folksy in Folkston, apparently. Perhaps the residual effect of everyone knowing everyone else, one McDonald’s, no Walmart and a trip “uptown,” as Williams calls it, taking no more than five minutes. They’re all speaking the same language.
Now the folks of Folkston have an ambassador in Connecticut. If they’d only send a translator.
“I called something ‘janky’ once and they’re looking at me like I’m crazy,” Williams says. “Or I said ‘you green.’ That means if you’re dead wrong about something and I’m telling you in a joking way. I say, ‘Yo, you green.’ They had no idea what I was talking about. I have to explain a lot of things to them.”
But wait, there’s more.
“I’ll say ‘gred day! I can’t believe you did that!’ It’s a Folkston thing,” Williams says. “If you ask anybody in Folkston, ‘Yo, what’s ‘gred day?’ it’s just an expression. The first time I said it was to JJ (Jonquel Jones). She said, 'Are you saying grad day? Did somebody graduate?’”
Funny thing, too, when Williams' name surfaces among her teammates. They flash smiles, as if from reflex. That’s because they associate her with comedy, dancing and odd words, not necessarily in that order. Sort of like Mrs. Malaprop from the play “The Rivals,” who purposely misspoke for comic effect.
“I like ‘believe it’ and ‘get in your bag,’” Thomas says. “Believe it,’ I’ve learned, is when you say something that’s a fact. She says, ‘believe it.’ And ‘get in your bag’ means go to work and do your thing. Like if they can’t guard you on the court, she’ll say, ‘get in your bag.’”
Ogwumike: “She probably sings more than she talks. This year she came in and started playing her crazy Georgia music for us. Now our whole team loves the playlist. Those Georgia songs, probably not even from Georgia, are on the game warmup list.
“I think my favorite word is ‘stylo,’” Ogwumike said. “That means ‘that’s my style.’ I caught myself saying it the other day. ‘That’s my stylo.’ I’m like, ‘Who am I?’”
Then Ogwumike grinned, thinking of another one and said, “She was singing before the game the other day and JJ’s like ‘Courtney, shut up.’ I said, ‘No I like it when she sings.’ Again, I’m like, ‘Who am I?’”
Williams even makes her teammates laugh ordering doughnuts.
“They were going to Dunkin' Donuts and I don’t know why I said this, but I said Krispy Kreme because I wanted a glazed doughnut,” Williams says. “They said, ‘We’re going to Dunkin' Donuts, what do you want?’ I said, ‘Get me a Krispy Kreme.’ They’re like what are you talking about?”
Or as Ogwumike recalled from Williams’ first year here, “We stopped on the road to get some Krispy Kremes. All of a sudden, Courtney says, 'Ah (I) love me mah (my) Krippa Kremes.' Now I call her 'Krispy.'”
Humor, intentional or otherwise, is like an American Express card for Courtney Williams. She never leaves home without it.
Maybe because she needs it.
Because there is heartache in her life she rarely lets others see.
On March 4, 2017, Nicoya Jackson, “Coco” to her best friend Courtney Williams, was in a car back home in Georgia on her way to a manicure. A drunk driver hit the car. Coco and another passenger, Jaqhayla Houston, were killed.
Coco had just spent a few months in Turkey with her best friend since the third grade, while Williams was playing there professionally.
Williams is asked how she copes.
“I don’t,” she says.
Then she pauses and says, “I don’t really talk about it. It’s not something I think I’m really ready to face. It was my best friend. I’m not ready to accept it. Life definitely goes on. Before every game, I say, ‘Co, this is for you.’ Then I play. It brings things back to perspective. It hits me sometimes. You’re not going to see it on my face. But I have my little moments for sure.”
Rather ironic that Williams, hiding pain, so effortlessly brings joy.
“A lot of times, people get annoyed with us because we go at it all day, every day, over literally nothing,” close friend and teammate Betnijah Laney said. “Sometimes, just me and her in the room going at it. It could be my hair, her hair, who’s going to turn the light off, anything and everything. Then we look at each other and laugh.
“We’re good people,” Laney said. “It goes for all 12 (players) in the room, a good bunch of people. Makes things easier. You don’t need to watch how you are around each other. We’re able to be free and be ourselves. Courtney is a big reason why.”