By SHAUN SAVARESE
Of The Record Staff
Next time you step into the Midway High School gym, show some respect … it’s where work is done.
It’s where Raider point guard Leah Williams put in the extra effort that lifted her to the next level. Williams signed a letter of intent Wednesday to play basketball for the University of Mount Olive.
The three-sport athlete and four-year varsity basketball player steadily improved her abilities in that gym. Williams averaged seven points per game as a freshman, 10.8 as a sophomore, 17 as a junior, and 21.1 this season.
So, wipe your feet when you walk onto that court, because that’s a 300 percent improvement.
Every other facet of her game also improved in her four years as a Raider guard; assists, steals, blocks, turnovers and rebounds.
The Midway Lady Raiders earned their bid to the 2A girl’s basketball state tournament this season. They fell in Elizabethtown, to East Bladen, on Feb. 22. Williams scored 27 points.
“(She has the) most heart of any player I have ever coached, Raiders head coach Allen McLamb said following the game. “(She) gives it all every time for herself and the team.”
On Wednesday at Spivey’s Corner, Williams was surrounded by her coaches, family and friends as she put pen to ink on an agreement linking her to the UMO Trojans program.
Midway High School Athletic Director Beth Best said Williams always gives 100 percent. “She is do-or-die, on and off the court. … She would come in an hour before and leave two hours late, just to make sure she got the shot,” Best said. “We’re very excited for her to see her dreams fulfilled and to play at the next level.”
Best isn’t the only Leah Williams fan who will travel to Mount Olive to watch her play. Her grandfather, Dwight Williams plans to be at “every game.”
Mr. Williams grew up loving basketball, studied “Pistol” Pete Maravich and tried to play a lot like him. On Wednesday, he was “overwhelmed” and full of pride for his granddaughter. He said his wife, Linda was a record-setting star for Clement High School, losing only five games in her four years at the varsity level. He said Mrs. Williams went on to be the first Clement basketball player to play collegiately, at Sandhills Community College. She became the first female basketball coach in Clement High School history, serving as both teacher and principal.
Leah’s lineage explains her remarkable basketball ability, as her father averaged 25 points per game in his three years at Sampson Community College. It also explains her drive, dedication and determination.
Midway High School American History II teacher Carolyn Bowden taught Leah in first period, junior year. Ms. Bowden said students often use late-night sporting events as an excuse to miss her early bell class … but not Leah.
“She never missed. She was there. She always had her work. It didn’t matter where they played at. If she had homework, she had it,” Ms. Bowden said. “She worked hard. She was dedicated as a student.” Ms. Bowden added that Leah maintained an A-grade in her honors class while playing basketball, volleyball and softball.
Her basketball coach, Allen McLamb can also attest to that commitment.
“I would be putting the balls up and closing the gym and she was still shooting. (She was the) last one to put the balls on the rack (and the) last one to come out of the gym,” he said. “She’s got strong work ethic … She’s got all the heart it takes. She’s going to be fine at the next level,” he said.
Mr. McLamb said he wasn’t confident that he would ever coach a player who would be as ready for the jump to college basketball as Leah. “If she don’t make it there … something’s going on beside her. I can promise you that,” he said.
Unlike many incoming freshman, Leah has a plan for her academic future. She plans to study agricultural business at the University of Mount Olive.
Leah grew up and spent her whole life at work on her family farm and if she doesn’t complete a task on time, she feels as though she has failed. She worked every summer, and her parents taught her to be disciplined.
“I feel like a bunch of my work ethic comes from my parents and family holding me accountable,” she said.
In her free time, she enjoys watching the Duke Blue Devils, calling them very skilled. “They have really good attitudes on the court and they play really well together,” she said.
Like most everyone on the Duke men’s roster, Leah has true, and unmistakable basketball talent. She realized her unique ability in eighth grade and became aware that she could command a game her freshman year.
“Our starting point guard got hurt and I was the next point guard in line,” she said. “It put a lot of pressure and the spotlight on me.”
Being a fan in the stands of the Midway High School gym, when Leah Williams was in her zone made for some exciting evenings in Sampson County. And, while she enjoyed putting on scoring shows time-after-time, for Leah, it’s just proof that hard work works.
“It’s a good feeling but it also make me feel that all of the reps that I got in late at night — working in the gym with my dad — it shows that those reps are paying off and translating into the game,” she said.
Her biggest basketball blessing was her 1,000th point, a threeball over Hobbton on Dec. 4, 2017.
“I came down the court. I passed it to J.J. (Sankey), because she was open. She passed it back to me because the defense had shifted toward her and (J.J.) assisted me on the 3-pointer,” Leah said.
Champion marathoner, Alberto Salazar once said, “Never ask your body to do something it hasn’t already done in training — and you’ll have confidence that you can actually do it.”
Before that 18-point performance, Leah began every practice with 50 form shots.
Before her 1,434th point, she worked on her rhythm and defined her range.
Before her 1,000th point, Leah practiced her moves and worked on game situations.
Before even her 50th varsity basketball point, future UMO Trojan Leah Williams took the time and put in the work.