Before she was Amy Gusso, student-athlete at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, she was only the first part of that title.
She had come to the college from Spearfish, South Dakota, with the help of an academic scholarship.
Basketball had always been a part of her life. Her dad was a basketball coach. She was a basketball player. Gusso was like many college freshmen. Sports are a huge part of your life in high school, and then all of a sudden, they’re not.
Gusso went to the campus rec center and played basketball. She wanted more, but that’s where the story usually ends for most students holding on to a dream of playing college sports. Not for her. She went to the Nebraska women’s basketball coaches and asked for a tryout. She got it, and ended up doing so well that she went from student to Husker walk-on to Husker scholarship player.
Pretty cool story, huh? Even better is that now she’s the one leading that program. Now Amy Williams is the head women’s basketball coach at Nebraska, on the job for about two weeks now.
You don’t hire coaches just because they’d be working at their alma mater, Nebraska athletic director Shawn Eichorst said, but it’s a nice touch.
Eichorst also was impressed with her intelligence, passion and experience in recruiting.
It was just one month ago that Williams was the head coach at South Dakota. The team was disappointed at the end to not be in the NCAA Tournament. It got a chance to keep playing in the WNIT. You never know what a team is going to put into that. Williams got her team to win six straight for the championship.
“There is no doubt when you walk through a tournament like she walked through, that’s some experience there,” Eichorst said.
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Williams was introduced as head coach during a news conference in the lobby of the Hendricks Training Complex. Eichorst presented her with a jersey, No. 5, just like she’d worn as a Husker.
It’s been more than 15 years since her Senior Day, but she still remembers her time as a Husker well.
In her second year as a student at Nebraska, she got her chance to join the basketball team. Coach Angela Beck warned her that no matter what she’d been doing before, the other players were going to be in better shape. Williams was still able to keep pace.
“Fortunately for me I was able to kind of hang through those practices and get through all of the sprints and conditioning and get right back up on that line, and I think that toughness and some other factors went into play, but I was very fortunate to make the roster,” Williams said.
“One of the highlights, and probably one of the best days of my life, is when I walked into that locker room after practice and Coach Beck had announced to the team that I was going to make the roster.”
During her job interview, Eichorst asked Williams to tell him about her playing days.
She told him she was part of the 30-30 club. He was impressed, and wanted to know more. Then Williams explained that meant that if the Huskers were up by 30 points in a game, or down by 30 points, she may get about 30 seconds of playing time.
“I thought that was pretty cool,” Eichorst said.
With her blue-collar approach, Williams scratched and clawed and gave everything she had to the program. After her second year as a walk-on, she got an athletic scholarship. She played in 57 games over four seasons from 1995-98.
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That work ethic and love for basketball that eventually got her an NCAA Division I scholarship began as a child. Her dad, Tim, was a high school basketball coach. Seeing the effect he had on his players stood out to her. She wanted to have that same kind of influence.
“It’s something I’ve always looked up to and admired, the way he had mentored young people, and the impact he’s had on young people’s lives, and all of the people that have come back to him and talked about how much of an impact he had on their lives,” Williams said.
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Back then in South Dakota, girls basketball was played in the fall, so her dad coached both boys and girls basketball.
Her dad coached her early in her high school career on one of the lower-level teams.
During one practice, Amy got sent home early.
“Yes, that happened. I deserved it, looking back on it now,” Williams said. “There was a day we were learning a new press and he wanted me to cut off the sideline on the press and this girl dribbled right beside me and down the sideline. So then he stops and says, ‘OK, for this press to work you have to cut off the sideline.’ We get to playing again and she dribbles right down the sideline again. So then he kind of raised his voice a little bit to let me know that this was not going to work if I didn’t cut the sideline off. And so I walked over and put my foot on the sideline and kind of stomped, and that was it. He sent me home for the day.”
Williams said that happened when she was either a freshman or sophomore.
“It was at that time where everyone is stubborn, right?” she said.
Later on, a more mature Williams couldn’t wait to get home from practice and games and hear what her dad had to suggest about ways that she could get better.
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Coach Williams almost went a different professional route.
She was a really good student, and everybody thought she’d do something big. She was a biology and mathematics double-major on the path to medical school.
She even did an internship at Saint Elizabeth Regional Medical Center in Lincoln. That’s when she realized she wanted to do something else with her life. She wanted to be a coach.
Her first job was as a graduate assistant at Nebraska-Kearney. Next came jobs at Texas-San Antonio, Oklahoma State and Tulsa.
She had looked into some heading coaching jobs, but those jobs often went to coaches with head coaching experience. Williams took her chance to be a head coach, starting the program from scratch at Rogers State University, an NAIA school in Oklahoma, and turning it into a winner.
There were two years when her husband, Lloyd, was the the head men’s coach at Rogers State, and Williams the women’s coach at the school. They met at Texas-San Antonio, where Lloyd played and coached basketball.
Now Lloyd does basketball workouts for about 50 kids in Vermillion, South Dakota. After the school year is over, he’ll move to Lincoln with the couple’s two daughters, Kennadi and Bentli, and he may try doing the same thing in Lincoln.
Friends say part of why Amy Williams is able to balance family life and coaching is because basketball is part of the family. She can come home, and still watch film.
“I’m telling you, I question if there is another home that watches more basketball than our family, because she flips it on and we’re watching it and we’re game-planning together,” Lloyd Williams said. “And I like it. I played basketball in college, and it’s what I know, too, so it makes it very easy. Our kids are kind of bouncing all over the place, but me and her are watching film. I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
Their oldest daughter, 10-year old Kennadi, plays basketball on a team with boys. Kennadi was nervous about moving to Lincoln, but after shooting in the Huskers’ gym with freshman guard Maddie Simon on the night Williams met the Huskers, Kennadi was already feeling a little better.
Lloyd Williams says Amy’s teams play an up-tempo style, and with a man-to-man defense.
“That’s what she does,” he said. “As much as she and I try to talk zone, I can’t get her to play zone sometimes.
“I’m always so amazed at how much patience she has, which is unbelievable that you say 'patience' and 'coach' in the same sentence, because they usually don’t come with patience, but how patient she is with her team development. She’s not a yeller and a screamer at her kids. She’s very patient and believes in them. She waits for them to hit that turn where they’re good enough and it all works out together. It’s very amazing to watch what she does.”