Past playoff stumbles spur Parkway girls, Mikaylah Williams

CREAM OF THE CROP: Parkway junior point guard Mikaylah Williams is the country’s top-rated Class of 2023 basketball recruit.

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

When Parkway fell to Sulphur in the second round of the LHSAA Girls’ Class 5A State Basketball Championship two years ago, the loss was an especially tough one for the Lady Panthers.

“That was a heartbreaker,” Parkway coach Gloria Williams says of the 48-44 loss to Sulphur. “We lost in the last two minutes. That left an open wound.”

That wound would fester.

Fast-forward one year later to the quarterfinals of the 2021 state playoffs. The No. 4-seeded Lady Panthers were leading No. 12-seed district rival Benton late in the game on their home court in Bossier City, only to lose 49-46 to the eventual state runner-up Lady Tigers.

“That was huge,” recalls Coach Williams. “To lose in the last 30 seconds …”

What has transpired for Parkway in the year since that Benton loss has been remarkable. The Lady Panthers (29-2 overall; 14-0 in District 1-5A) open the 2022 state playoffs this week as the undefeated district champions and No. 2-seed statewide. They will host District 3-5A Acadiana (19-14 overall) in the first round of bi-district play Thursday at 6 p.m.

What has transpired for Parkway’s Mikaylah Williams since the Benton loss has been mind-boggling.

During her sophomore season last year, the 6-foot-0 point guard averaged 17.8 points per game en route to being named to the 2021 All-City team by The Times as well as honorable mention on the Class 5A All-State team by the Louisiana Sports Writers Association.

She was beginning to make waves, but Williams still had some work to do.

According to Shane Laflin of ESPN/NCAAW recruiting rankings, “In April, the only moderate concern was her consistency and confidence from the 3-point line. By July, she erased that, stroking shots from deep with ease, either off the catch or off the dribble. That was clearly on display at the Premier Basketball Super 64 Championship game vs. No. 2-ranked junior Ciera Toomey (Dunmore, PA) and her NEPA Elite Squad.”

That “moderate concern” was something Mikaylah Williams took seriously. “Going into my junior year, I put the work in day in and day out,” she says. “I worked hard on my muscle memory and my shooting improved.”

Coach Williams smiles when she remembers just when the work started to show dividends.

“At one point, Mikaylah came to me and said, ‘I can shoot now.’”

Working on her shooting wasn’t the only area where Williams put in endless hours. According to her coach, the junior’s biggest improvement has been on defense.

And that was reiterated by Laflin: “What makes Williams so complete is that she is also a lockdown defender. Her effort and focus both on and off the ball set her apart from her peers and has her more college-ready than anyone in her class. Her strength and nose for the ball allow her to rebound against the bigs and start the break instantly.”

In August, Williams was named to the 2021 USA Basketball 3X3 U18 World Cup Team. That, in itself, was quite impressive. Not only was she one of just four high school players chosen, she was the only junior.

To say Williams took that opportunity one step further would be a gross understatement. At the FIBA World Cup in Hungary, she was named Most Valuable Player after scoring the final bucket in the gold medal game and finishing as the top scorer in the World Cup with 56 points in seven games.

“It’s been a blessing, everything I’ve been able to experience,” Williams says with her usual humility. “I feel like I’m finally stepping in and embracing the leadership role.”

That leadership has led the Lady Panthers to their first perfect District 5-A season as well as the No. 2 seed in the LSHAA playoffs.

“She’s a history maker,” Coach Williams said of Mikaylah, who finished this regular season averaging 22.6 points per game and is the nation’s top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2023.

“She’s a top-notch kid all around. She boosts the other players and makes them better. But there is no ego. That’s tough to find in an elite player.”

What a difference a year can make.

“Because of last year,” says Mikaylah Williams, “we have a chip on our shoulder. We never want to feel that again.”

Photo by BRADY WILLIAMS/WILLIAMS PHOTOGRAPHY