By Jim Sumner, GoDuke.com
DURHAM, N.C.-- They say champions are made in the off-season.
Jade Williams wants to use this off-season to become a champion and, in the process, help her Duke women’s basketball team become champions.
The 6-5 Williams will be a junior next season. She is Joanne P. McCallie’s most-experienced post player and arguably her most talented.
Williams comes from a basketball family. Her father Marvin, Jr. (not to be confused with the Marvin Williams who plays for the Charlotte Hornets) played basketball at Princeton and her younger brother Marvin III, known as Tre, will be a freshman this fall on the University of Minnesota team. Mother Kelly played high-school ball in Minnesota. Jade grew up in Texas. She played for the USA team in the 2015 U16 Championships and was named a 2017 McDonald’s All-American. The lefty is unusually mobile for a player of her height.
“She came to Duke tough,” McCallie says. “She can handle being coached. She wants to be coached. She will speak up. She wants to be the best player she can be. She’s sharp as a tack. She’s not sensitive.”
That suggests a high ceiling and Williams has matched that expectation on multiple occasions. She was an All-ACC Freshman selection in 2018 and averaged 8.4 points and 5.4 rebounds per game last season, as a sophomore. Williams had 17 points and 11 rebounds against Florida Gulf Coast, 17 points against Florida State, 15 points, eight rebounds and three blocks against Pittsburgh; 15 points and 13 rebounds against North Carolina.
But Williams has had consistency issues. She followed that Florida Gulf Coast game with a four-point game against NC State, followed that FSU game with four points and two rebounds against Wake Forest.
McCallie says Williams’ inconsistency is common for young post players. “It’s a natural evolution. Great players find a way. She’ll get there.”
McCallie adds that the injury problems that plagued Duke at point guard last season hurt Williams’ game.
Williams says she needs to “play more mature. I need to adjust to the speed of the game. There’s no time to think about myself. Make a mistake but you have to move to the next play. You have to have some amnesia. It’s a lesson I had to learn. Once it’s over, you have to move on.”
Staying out of foul trouble would help. She led Duke last season with 94 fouls committed and four disqualifications.
“I have to develop a relationship with the refs,” she says.
Williams plans on spending part of the summer at home in The Colony, Texas before coming back to Duke for the second semester of summer school.
She has a big check list.
“I’m going help my brother move into Minnesota. I want to work on everything; my shooting, my ball-handling, work with a trainer, work in the weight room. It’s a process. I have to grind it out. I plan on playing a lot of 3-on-3, a lot of open gym. That’s the best thing for me.”
Williams has made two-of-six three-pointers in her two years at Duke, while shooting 50.5 percent from the foul line.
She thinks hard work can greatly increase her perimeter shooting.
“I want to expand my range. I think I can hit that shot consistently, which will help me inside.”
McCallie is enthusiastic about the idea.
“As she matures, she can be an inside/outside player. She’s spent a lot of time working on her three-ball. She has a beautiful stroke. I’ve challenged her. She has guard skills.”
Williams playing more on the perimeter only works if someone else can handle the inside. McCallie feels confident that Onome Akinbode-James can fill that role. She’s a rising sophomore, 6-3 raw but hungry to learn and grow.
“She’s physical and talented,” McCallie says of Akinbode-James. “She’s a nice five, with good range. She can be an elite rebounder.”
McCallie also mentions athletic 6-3 Jennifer Ezeh, an incoming freshman, as someone who will figure in the post rotation sooner rather than later. Ezeh prepped in Maryland but like Akinbode-James, is a native of Nigeria.
Duke needs Williams to give consistent production. But they also need her to provide veteran leadership to a young position group that should include Akinbode-James, Ezeh and rising sophomore Uchenna Nwoke.
She says she’s ready, willing and able.
“Leadership isn’t hard. Everyone can be a leader. I’m mostly lead-by-example but I can be more vocal. I know what needs to be done and how to focus on those tasks.”
McCallie says Williams needs “to work on her delivery. That’s how she becomes a special leader.”
Duke had to deal with an unusual amount of instability last season, three season-ending injuries, a transfer, a suspension and enough youthful mistakes to try the patience of a saint.
Williams says she and her team learned from those trials.
“We need to commit to a culture of excellence. We have to buy into it. We have some really good talent coming in and some talent coming back. Everybody needs to work on being a threat.”
McCallie says Williams will be one of those threats.
“I’m excited about her. She’s improved every year. She’s intuitive, smart, can compete. This is a real opportunity for her.”