Los Angeles Sparks' Gabby Williams says French team is 'where I'm supposed to be'

ByMechelle Voepel ESPN logo
Sunday, August 1, 2021

You won't see former UConn women's basketball star Gabby Williams in the WNBA this year. But it will be a better version of her playing for the Los Angeles Sparks next season, she said, because of her time this summer with the French national team.

"I feel like I'm exactly where I'm supposed to be, and going in the direction I've always wanted to go in," Williams said from Tokyo. "I'm giving my all into what I want to give my all into.

"I'm finally happy playing basketball again. Really just enjoying myself; basketball is fun for me. And I feel like I'm becoming the player I've always wanted to strive to be."

Williams and Team France take on the United States on Monday (12:40 a.m. ET) in their final game of Olympic Group B play. Williams' mother and mom's side of the family are from France, and Williams is fluent in French, having grown up speaking it with her grandmother, in particular.

She said her French teammates tease her about her American-accented French, but that they've welcomed her warmly and that her game is developing in a way that pleases her.

At 5-foot-11, Williams can play four different positions, from point guard to power forward. Her versatility as sort of a "Swiss Army knife" player both for the Huskies, with whom she won two NCAA titles, and professionally is something she's proud of. But she also appreciates the opportunity with France to focus on shooting guard/wing, where she is most comfortable. That's also what she's done with her overseas team in Hungary.

"It's always been my mindset to put the team first; 'OK, where do you need me? I'll be the missing puzzle piece,'" Williams said. "And it's a way to keep a job in the WNBA, because there are so few spots. A way to keep myself useful.

"But the thing about playing different positions is that I never really got great at anything, I just got really good at a lot of different things. It has for sure helped me -- I'm not saying it's a bad thing -- but now I'm ready to take the next step in my career."

In the WNBA, that will be in Los Angeles and not Chicago, where she was drafted No. 4 in 2018 and averaged 6.8 points, 3.4 rebounds and 1.9 assists in three seasons. Chicago coach and general manager James Wade suspended her for this season, saying the time commitment she needed for the French national team put the Sky in too difficult a position personnel-wise.

Williams said she found out about the suspension "basically through social media," and it surprised her, as she thought they had an understanding.

"It was extremely shocking, to say the least," Williams said. "It was a complicated situation with me having to miss so many games, but I thought from the get-go there was never an expectation for me to be at [WNBA] training camp."

Williams requested a trade, which happened shortly after the suspension. She said it was tough to say goodbye to her Sky teammates, but sees the benefit of a fresh start with the Sparks. As a child growing up in a town called Sparks, Nevada, she wrote a paper saying she would one day play for the Los Angeles Sparks. And now she will.

Williams has kept an eye on the WNBA this summer, but her heart currently is with Team France, which is 1-1 in group play going into the game against Team USA. Williams had nine points, four rebounds and five assists in a 74-70 loss to Japan, and 13-9-4 in an 87-62 win over Nigeria.

She understands why future Sparks teammates Nneka and Chiney Ogwumike and the Atlanta Dream's Elizabeth Williams were interested in playing for Team Nigeria -- their parents were all born in Nigeria and they have dual passports -- despite their past USA Basketball affiliation.

Williams took part in one USA Basketball team training camp in 2017, when she was still in college, but didn't play in a FIBA-sponsored event for the United States. She says that playing for France has been a dream come true, even though it cost her this WNBA season.

"The second I put on the French jersey for the first time, it was completely worth it," Williams said. "I'm so close with my mother, and this has been something really cool for me to learn more about her side of the family, since I grew up in the States.

"I am half-French, and to actually spend time in France and see my family there has been awesome. I know my mom and her side of the family have always been proud of me. But now they can say I'm playing for Les Bleues."