May 18, 2010 1:07:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Kala Williams had a tough decision to make about where she''d play college basketball.
But when East Mississippi Community College coach Sharon Thompson showed up Monday to Starkville High with a red and black No. 23 jersey, she knew she was home.
For the past three seasons, Williams wore that number in black and gold as she blazed through the state''s top flight.
In that time, she saw former teammates Kierra Jones and Tay O''dneal sign with Meridian C.C., a program that also recruited the versatile wing player.
Opting for Meridian could have meant re-uniting with her former teammates from Starkville High''s district title team of 2008-09. Instead, she chose the Lady Lions, who are two seasons removed from an appearance in the junior college national tournament.
Williams'' choice was exciting, but having her future jersey at the signing ceremony gave her an early glimpse of being a collegiate player.
"I was excited to see my number on a jersey (with) new colors, new school," Williams said Monday. "I''m pretty amped up."
Thompson said she doesn''t usually have a jersey outfitted with a player''s prep number to hand out on signing day, but she said she wanted to surprise Williams.
"That''s how we do it at East Mississippi," Thompson said. "Any time we can get a kid over Meridian, it''s a plus for us."
Thompson, who just completed her fifth season at EMCC, guided the Lady Lions to a 15-13 record last season and a spot in the national tournament in 2008-09.
Her head coaching experience and time as an assistant in the league has given her a base for what type of players to recruit to Scooba.
She calls the junior college competition in the state "a guard-oriented league" and is thrilled to add an explosive scorer who has the potential to play the two-guard or small forward position.
"Guards dominate every year," Thompson said. "That''s one thing we tackled this year. You can''t have enough guards. Any time you can get a kid who''s a good player in your district, that''s a plus for your program."
Because of the emphasis on guard play, Thompson said competition for starting spots and playing time will be fierce.
Williams anticipates the jump to college will be challenging, but she''s confident increased competition will help her skill set blossom.
Already blessed with quickness, leaping ability, and scoring ability, Williams will look to improve her defense.
"It was something we focused on in every practice (at Starkville)," Williams said. "We spent a lot of time working on defense. I''m confident that if I put in all the work I''ll get better."
Thompson said Williams is a great player who will adjust to the defensive-oriented program because of her love of the game.
Williams began crafting her basketball skills when she was in second grade, competing in Starkville Area youth basketball before moving through Armstrong Middle and Starkville High.
Williams realized at AMS she wanted to play college basketball. It also is where her high school coach realized Williams'' potential.
"I told Kala when she was in eighth grade I knew she had the potential to be a superstar," Starkville High coach Kristie Williams said. "She''s an under-the-radar type leader, a quiet leader. She helped some of her teammates to know that if you work hard, this can happen to you. It''s a privilege to coach great players, and she''s no exception. I know she''s going to do great things for coach Thompson at EMCC."
Williams led Starkville with 18.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per game this season and was a Commercial Dispatch Large Schools All-Area First-Team selection. She''s the fifth Lady Jacket from the past two season to sign a college scholarship, joining Jones, O''dneal (MCC), Shaquinta Robinson (Blue Mountain), and Shay Bonner (Itawamba C.C.).
"It feels so good, it''s almost surreal," Kala Williams said. "I feel honored I was offered a scholarship. I just want to thank my coaches and family for supporting for getting me this far in life and basketball."