As the WNBA offseason moves along, many players are starting to wrap up their second seasons abroad. Former UConn forward Gabby Williams was overseas in Italy playing for Dike Napoli but is now back stateside and preparing for her second season with the Chicago Sky. Always one to engage with fans, Williams wrote a rookie diary for ESPNW last year, got to work out with Kobe and more since she has left UConn. She took the time to answer some questions from The Daily Campus’s Matt Barresi on what’s going on in her professional life.
Matt Barresi: I am assuming this is a clichéd question that you may have been asked multiple times at this point, but I must ask: Have you tried Chicago Deep Dish Pizza yet, and what is the best spot in your opinion?
Gabby Williams: I’ve tried deep dish. It’s not my favorite. This may be controversial, but New York style pizza is way better.
MB: Chicago is one of the United States’ largest cities. Storrs, Connecticut, is quite the opposite. What was the lifestyle transition like in going from UConn to the Sky? How, if at all, have you changed how you conduct yourself?
GW: We actually lived in a suburb outside of the city so it wasn’t as busy, and we spent so much time traveling and on the road I felt like I was never home.
Honestly the biggest transition was dealing with traffic. But I will say it was nice exploring the city on my very rare days off. It’s a super cool city and there’s always something to see or do. That’s something I could never do in college. There wasn’t much to explore in Storrs, but in Chicago you can learn something new about the city every day.
MB: Many in the WNBA take on a second season abroad. I just talked to Morgan Tuck about her time in China, and I know your friend Kia Nurse is in Australia. What went into your decision to go to Italy of all places?
GW: It’s a huge goal of mine to have a successful career playing in Euroleague. That was a big contributor to me choosing to play in Italy and getting my name known in Europe.
MB: What were some highs and lows of your time over there?
GW: The things I enjoyed were having teammates that I got close to that helped make the experience better, and exploring cities like Milan and Rome. I did some amazing shopping.
MB: How is the style of play over there compared to stateside? Do they conduct their basketball operations differently?
GW: The style of play is very different. It’s not nearly as fast-paced in Italy or as physical. It took a lot of adjusting, especially for me, since I’m a player that likes to push the ball and run.
MB: This past fall you got to work out with Kobe Bryant and he, along with his daughter, are known Husky acolytes. Did he have any thoughts, on either UConn or your game individually, that you found particularly insightful?
GW: He would show me moves that he thought would be good for my game. But what was cool was it wasn’t about the move, it was about how he did the move. He would show me when to change speeds or create space, making simple moves really lethal. It’s all in the details. It’s fun to see how his brain works, and I try to absorb as much as possible. It’s also been fun watching his daughter‘s team improve and grow. Gigi definitely has the same mamba mentality.
MB: I know from your time at UConn that you are, or were, big into anime. It’s very popular in the NBA. De’Aron Fox talks about “Dragon Ball,” Willy Cauley Stein wore Naruto shoes and Zion Williamson is apparently a big fan as well. Have you found that fandom to be similar among WNBA players? Any names (and their shows) you can share?
GW: I’m still very into anime. My personal favorites are “Sailor Moon,” “Inuyasha” and “Naruto.” The only player I know of that also likes anime is Diamond DeShields. She’s a “Dragon Ball Z” fan. We were hoping to go to a Comic Con last summer, but it never worked out. Maybe this year we can go.
MB: Last year you wrote a rookie diary for ESPNW. How did that come into existence and what did you try to get out of the experience?
GW: Sean Hurd approached me at the draft and pitched the idea to me. He was always a fun writer for me to work with while I was at UConn, so I was open to the idea. Our goal was to give people a glimpse into what the league was really like and some of the things we as players go through that fans don’t really think about.
MB: Obviously you will not be able to write a “rookie” diary again, but in general, what is your perspective on being open and direct with fans through your own medium of choice?
GW: I try not to share too much of my personal life. I try to focus more on promoting the league and keeping fans updated on my career. I also think it’s important to use my platform to inform my followers and fans on social issues and to share my beliefs. I mostly use Twitter for things like this. I know a lot of people don’t love some of my social activism and I’ve lost some fans because of it. But to be honest, I could care less. I think it’s important for athletes to use their voice, especially on the behalf of those who feel silenced.
MB: In your initial entry you mentioned how your diet had varied from vegan to vegetarian to pescatarian. I’m wondering if you have settled on a nutrition approach yet to meet the demands of being a pro and how emphasized a tertiary aspect like that was at UConn?
GW: I’m making the transition back to full veganism now that I’m back in the States and have more time to really focus on my diet. It’s much easier to find vegan options here than it is overseas. My first couple years at UConn I ate terribly. I didn’t start to be more mindful about what I ate until my junior year and noticed a difference right away. I think as a pro, nutrition is a major key to longevity. You’re playing so many games a week, which takes a toll on your body. Good nutrition plays a huge role in recovery.
MB: Heading into your second WNBA season, what expectations have you set for yourself and the Sky, and what have you done in preparation to achieve them?
GW: I want to have a much more aggressive mindset this year. Last year I felt like I played it too safe. I feel more confident coming into this season now that I know what to expect, so I can focus more on my game rather than trying to figure everything out. Also having a year under my belt has helped me to know what I need to work on in my individual workouts and has helped me picture what kind of player I want to be. I’m expecting us to have a good run in playoffs this year, and I’m excited about our coaching staff.
MB: Lastly, I’m sure the time difference made it difficult, but have you been watching and been in contact with this year’s Husky team? Any thoughts?
GW: I’ve watched all the big games and I’m trying my best to keep up on everything via Twitter and ESPN. The team is going through some growing pains, but so does every team. I’m glad they’re going through this now instead of in the Final Four, like what happened my last two years there. I couldn’t be more confident in Napheesa and Lou. They’ve got more experience than anyone else in college basketball right now, and I think they’re going to just dominate come tournament time.
Matt Barresi is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.