SPOTLIGHT: ‘Miss Basketball’ label fits Parkway’s Williams

SPECIAL TALENT: Parkway junior basketball star Mikaylah Williams was an unquestioned selection as Louisiana’s ‘Miss Basketball’ for 2021-22 by the LSWA.

By HARRIET PROTHRO PENROD, Journal Sports

When a Louisiana Sports Writers Association panel voted for Mr. and Miss Basketball honors for the 2021-2022 season, there was no discussion of vote tallies. The numbers didn’t really matter.

There was just one leading candidate seriously considered for both of the awards, according to All-State committee member Robin Fambrough. In no surprise, Solomon Washington was named Louisiana Farm Bureau/Mr. Basketball after the senior led Carver to the Class 4A state championship.

There was no doubt about who would be named Miss Basketball, either. It’s just that the award went to neither a senior nor a state champion.

“She’s one of the best players we’ve had,” Fambrough says of Parkway’s Mikaylah Williams, who was announced over the weekend as Miss Basketball by the LSWA. “I’m reluctant to use the word ‘ever,’ but she’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen.”

She would know. As a staff writer for The Advocate in Baton Rouge, Fambrough was sitting courtside when Parkway and Ponchatoula met for the Class 5A championship last month. In what has been called one of the greatest championship games in LHSAA history (in any class), Ponchatoula edged Parkway 80-79 in a double overtime thriller. It was the third time this season that Fambrough had seen Williams play.

The finals matchup featured a matchup of two of the state’s most exciting high school players – Ponchatoula senior Jaylee Womack and Williams, the Parkway junior guard/forward who happens to be the nation’s No. 1 recruit for 2023.

And while both players struggled offensively for most of the game, it was apparent to all of the LSWA members in attendance that they were watching two great players go up against each other.

Despite shooting just 5 of 20 from the field and being held to four points in the first half, Williams (who averaged 22.8 points per game for the season) finished with 23 points, eight rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. It was her 3-pointer with 25 seconds left that put Parkway up 79-78.

Womack, who was averaging 28 points per game, was held to just six in the first half. But the Tulane signee not only hit a 3-pointer from 24 feet to send the game to overtime, she sank a jumper with 16 seconds left that provided the margin in the double overtime victory.

“In the championship game all of us sat there in awe,” says Fambrough. “It was an intense struggle of greatness.”

Williams did not have to play a stat-stuffing game to warrant the praise of the veteran sports writer, inducted in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame last year.

“She knew she wasn’t hitting, so she went to Chloe Larry,” Fambrough says of Williams’ performance in the championship. “She has a keen eye – a sense. She has ways to help the other players around her play well. Not all great players can do that.”

In the first overtime Larry, who finished with a game-high 34 points, brought Parkway back from a 68-63 deficit with a layup and three free throws to send it into the second overtime.

“It’s not just about scoring 30 points,” Fambrough says of Williams’ performance. “The great ones don’t care about that. Her greatness was apparent. She is a very poised individual. Mikaylah has a chance to be a two-time winner (Miss Basketball) and that is rare.”

Rare, indeed. In the awards’ 27 years, there have only been four two-time winners – Kisha James of Pineville (1997-98), Seimone Augustus of Baton Rouge’s Capitol High (2001-02), Kalani Brown of Salmen (2014-15), and Cara Ursin of Destrehan (2016-17).

Fambrough sees similarities between Williams and Augustus, the four-time WNBA champion with the Minnesota Lynx (2011, 2013, 2015, 2017) and three-time Olympic Gold Medalist (2008, 2012, 2016). Augustus, who was selected as the first overall pick in the 2006 WNBA draft, is one of the greatest athletes to ever play for LSU.

Augustus, who in 2019 became the first female athlete at LSU to have her jersey retired, ended her college career as the school’s second-leading scorer with 2,702 points. Named National Player of the Year by the Associated Press, Augustus won the State Farm Wade Trophy, the Naismith Award, and the John R. Wooden Award as the nation’s best player (each twice).

It was recently announced that Augustus will have her own statue outside the Pete Maravich Assembly Center, joining the likenesses of Pete Maravich, Bob Pettit, and Shaquille O’Neal.

Not bad company. Like Augustus in high school, Williams is a straight-A student and a multiple-sport star (basketball, softball, track). She was named Most Valuable Player on the 5A All-Star team by the LSWA, the Louisiana Gatorade Player of the Year, and the only junior named a finalist for the Naismith Player of the Year by the Atlanta Tipoff Club.

“Watching Williams play is like watching Augustus – they’re always the best player on the floor,” says Fambrough, who first met Augustus when the superstar was 12 and was courtside for many of her games.

The similarities to great players don’t end with Augustus. Williams has also been compared to Southwood’s Alana Beard, who starred at Duke, was the No. 2 overall pick in the 2004 WNBA Draft and became a WNBA champion in 2016 with the Los Angeles Sparks.

“Mikaylah is a special, once-in-a-lifetime talent,” says Southwood coach Kendrick Golatt, who coached against the Parkway star twice this season. “She can do everything and more on the basketball court. But, in my opinion, the one thing that separates her from everybody else is her commitment and dedication to being great.

“She is definitely the best talent this area has seen since Alana Beard. But I’ll go one step further and say, in my opinion, she’s better.”

Photo by JOHN PENROD