DRAPER — It’s been 12 years now since she last laced up her basketball shoes and, yes, Natalie Williams has pretty much stayed true to her retirement day vow.
“I don’t plan on running again, unless something big and scary is chasing me,” she said in 2005 after she’d shot her last basket and pulled down her final rebound for the Indiana Fever, the WNBA team she’d joined after the Utah Starzz folded in 2002.
She was 34 years old — not exactly ancient, even by pro athlete standards. But it’s not the years, it’s the miles. And few athletes, male or female, had gone the distance quite like she had.
At Taylorsville High School, she led her teams to state championships in volleyball and basketball. At UCLA, she became the first woman in history to be named All-American in both volleyball and basketball the same season. After college she won gold medals playing basketball in two world championships and the 2000 Olympics. In nine seasons as a professional she was an All-Star seven times and was once league MVP.
And now? What’s the woman the state of Utah named Female Athlete of the Century and who is enshrined in the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame doing now?
Watching everybody else lace up their sneakers and run.
After more than a decade of coaching club and high school basketball — helping Skyline High School to two state championships as an assistant and compiling a 55-11 record and two region championships as head coach for three seasons at Juan Diego High School — Williams has ramped up her game, establishing the Natalie Williams Basketball Academy at Sport City, the 80,000-square-foot mega-gym in Draper.
She has 14 youth teams and five elite high school club teams under her direction, in addition to scheduling camps and organizing tournaments. It’s a full-time job and then some, which is fine with Williams, who never had a problem staying overtime in the gym.
She looks at the beautiful, air-conditioned courts and dozens of girls shooting baskets at Sport City, and even if it wasn’t all that long ago, can’t help but compare today’s world for female athletes to the one she grew up in not that many miles — and years — down the road in Taylorsville.