WNBA draftee Williams vows to fit in

Portlander with stormy past gets a shot in Cleveland

With a turbulent University of Oregon career behind her, Shaquala Williams promises to get along with her new coach and teammates in the WNBA.

The Cleveland Rockers took the Portland native in the third round, 30th overall, in last weekend's college draft. The Rockers, who also drafted LaToya Thomas No. 1 overall, open training camp today.

'Coming in as a rookie, you have to play your role on the team,' Williams says. 'People are going to want to see me use my speed and quickness to defend, try to get everybody else involved first and just take the open shot.

'Obviously, I'm not going to be the same scorer I was in college right away. I'm going to go in and try to fit in.'

Cleveland coach Dan Hughes has talked to Williams about her run-ins with Jody Runge and Bev Smith, her coaches at Oregon. Smith dismissed Williams from the team after four games last season. Smith never gave a reason for the dismissal. Williams said it resulted from an accumulation of bad conduct.

'Obviously, you're concerned,' Hughes says. 'But all of us deserve a fresh look. You give people chances.

'The thing I appreciated was, she in no way attempted to place blame anywhere. It wasn't 'somebody else's fault.' You're getting a player who is wiser for this experience. I wanted to tell her when she lands here, she's part of our family.'

Williams, the only Pacific-10 Conference player chosen in the draft, has never been to Cleveland and says she has 'never been a big fan of the Midwest.' Most of her time will be spent in the gym, at least until the season starts.

Hughes wants Williams to back up point guards Jennifer Rizzotti and Helen Darling and shooting guards Betty Lennox and Merlakia Jones. Darling sat out last year to have a baby.

The Rockers, 10-22 last season, have seven guards on their roster. Five will make the team. Hughes has never had a third-round pick make it. Few third-rounders stick in the veteran-laden WNBA. But Williams is different, he says, calling her 'a little bit of a wild card.'

Says Williams: 'You won't hear any complaints from me. I have to create my own opportunities, not being a first-rounder. I have to earn my spot.'

Williams says it was difficult staying in Eugene to finish her sociology degree while not playing basketball during the winter term.

'I saw it as an opportunity to strengthen me as a person and my character,' she says. 'I even went to a couple games. I wasn't going to run from the situation.'

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