LUT WILLIAMS BCSP Editor
Ameshya Williams-Holliday, who dominated play for the back-to-back SWAC champion Jackson State Lady Tigers, was taken in the third round of Monday’s WNBA Draft.
Williams-Holliday was selected by the Indiana Fever with the first pick of the third round, 25th overall. She becomes the first selection from an HBCU since a trio of players were selected in 2002. She is just the sixth HBCU selection overall (see STAT CORNER) in the 26-year history of the WNBA.
She got to share the special moment at a party with friends and family in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi.
“I came in smiling and they knew I had some good news cause I kept smiling,” Williams-Holliday said to writer Jack Maloney for a story on cbssports.com. “I just couldn’t stop smiling. I’m grateful, I’m thankful and I just want to thank everybody that helped me through this journey and kept pushing me to keep going and never give up.”
She is the second SWAC player to be drafted after Southern’s Jaclyn Winfield who was taken by Phoenix in 2002. Howard’s Denique Graves, who was the first HBCU draftee taken 15th overall by Sacramento in 1997, is the only HBCU player picked earlier.
Her place in the draft culminates an impressive five-year journey for Williams-Holliday.
Originally recruited to play at Mississippi State, she quit basketball in 2017 because she no longer enjoyed the game. After a few years and the birth of her son, Jace, she returned to the court in 2019 with Jackson State.
The 6-4 senior has been a double-double machine over the past three seasons for JSU head coach Tomekia Reed.
This season she averaged 19.2 points and 11.4 rebounds per game for the 23-7 Lady Tigers. She led the league in scoring, blocks (2.7 per game) and field goal percentage (.577). She finished just behind Alabama A&M center Dariauna Lewis in rebounding (11.3 to 11.2 rpg.).
Williams-Holliday recorded 22 double- doubles during the season (tied for 6th nationally) while scoring in double figures in every game and had 22 games with at least two blocked shots.
She scored a career-high 33 points with 11 rebounds vs. Florida A&M (Feb. 12), and scored 18 points with a season-high 21 rebounds, and a career-high tying seven blocked shots at Arkansas (Dec. 9).
Williams-Holliday averaged 16.1 points and 11.2 rebounds, and 2.9 blocks per game for her career. She scored in double-figures 71 times (including her final 39 consecutive games) and had 60 games with 2-plus blocks.
She is a three-time first-team All-SWAC selection (2020, 2021, 2022), a three-time league Defensive Player of the Year (2020, 2021, 2022), and in 2022 became the first SWAC player since 2019 to win both SWAC Player Of The Year and Defensive Player Of The Year honors in the same season.
The 23 wins this season is a school record for JSU. The 2021-22 Lady Tigers are also the first women’s basketball team in SWAC history to go 18-0 in league play. The Lady Tigers have won 31 consecutive conference games dating to the 2020-21 season and, including two SWAC Tournaments, they have won 37 consecutive games against conference opponents. JSU currently has a 29-game home winning streak, the second longest in the country.
After winning the SWAC title, JSU was seeded 14th in the NCAA Women’s Tournament and battled 3rd-seed LSU to the wire in an 83-77 loss. Williams-Holliday finished with 15 points and 12 rebounds.
Indiana, coached by Hall of Famer Marianne Stanley, finished last in the 12-team WNBA this season with a 6-26 record.
They tied the franchise record for the most players acquired in a single draft with seven players taken Monday. They had four picks in the first round.
They took high-scoring b 6-4 Baylor forward NaLyssa Smith with the second overall pick and 6-1 Emilly Engster of Louisville with the fourth selection. Six-one guard Lexie Hull of Stanford was taken with the sixth pick. Six- three Baylor center Queen Egbo went to the Fever with the tenth overall pick of the first round.
Five-seven point guard Destanni Henderson of NCAA champion South Carolina was taken by the Fever in the second round, 20th overall.
Williams-Holliday will now report to training camp with the Fever, which begins later this month. While it may be an uphill battle for her to make the roster as a third-round pick, there are a few factors that give her a chance.
First and foremost, she’s a hard-working, defensive-minded player who fits the culture that interim GM Lin Dunn is trying to create in Indiana. Plus, Indiana is in rebuilding mode and has just four guaranteed contracts on the books, which means, unlike many teams, they will have plenty of roster spots up for grabs in camp.