Sports

Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame inductee Williams-Strong took difficult path to success

Adrian Williams-Strong, who spent five of her eight seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, wil be inducted Thursday into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame.
Adrian Williams-Strong, who spent five of her eight seasons in the WNBA with the Phoenix Mercury, wil be inducted Thursday into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame. Arizona Republic

When Adrian Williams-Strong – one of the most talented basketball players to come out of the central San Joaquin Valley – looks back at her lengthy career, she can’t help but cringe a bit.

Not that Williams-Strong isn’t proud of her accomplishments, which includes a dominant run at Clovis West High and an eight-year pro career in the WNBA.

It all led to her upcoming induction into the Fresno Athletic Hall of Fame on Thursday night at the Fresno Convention Center’s Valdez Hall.

It’s just that nothing ever came easy for Williams-Strong – from injuries to a carousel of coaches to moments of self-doubt.

“My basketball journey was very difficult,” Williams-Strong said. “I don’t have that story of going to college, winning a championship, then getting drafted.

“It was a struggle sometimes; a lot of hard work. But my journey, well, it’s my journey.”

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Rising above. Opposing coaches say Adrian Williams, right, has lifted a good Clovis West team to a great one. KURT HEGRE the fresno bee

Wiliams-Strong was born in Fresno and attended Washington Elementary and Kastner Intermediate, but her basketball career didn’t really start to take off until she moved to Indiana.

There, she attracted national attention during the summer basketball circuit.

And when she moved back to Central California for her junior year of high school, Williams-Strong and her Clovis West teammates elevated girls high school basketball to another level.

“At that time, that was the best girls teams I’d ever seen,” longtime Central Section historian Bob Barnett said.

The 6-foot-4 Williams-Strong helped Clovis West capture back-to-back section championships (1994-1995) then signed with USC as one of the top recruits in the country.

But that’s when the struggles started.

“I was part of the second-best class in the nation going in; there were six of us, recruited by (basketball hall of famer) Cheryl Miller,” Williams-Strong said. “And by our senior year, all of us were either injured or gone.

“I was the only one on the court our senior year. And I had to take injections for the pain because I had fractured my foot.”

Williams-Strong never got to play in a game for Miller at USC. Miller ended up resigning a couple of months before Williams-Strong’s freshman season.

By the time Williams-Strong was done at USC, she had played for two other coaches and did not get drafted into the WNBA straight out of college.

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Adrian Williams-Strong finished her eight-season WNBA career with the Sacramento Monarchs. She is part of the Fresno County Athletic Hall of Fame class of 2109. Fresno

“It was tough,” Williams-Strong said. “I knew I had more basketball in me, though.”

So she went overseas for a season to play for a pro team in France, hoping to show she was over her previous injuries and that she was capable of playing in the WNBA.

The Phoenix Mercury took notice and drafted Williams-Strong in the first round with the 21st overall pick in 2000.

Perhaps it helped that Miller, the former USC coach who recruited Williams-Strong out of high school, was the Mercury head coach and general manager.

Williams-Strong thought it was finally meant to be, getting to play for Miller.

Except, Miller ended up resigning from the Mercury after the 2000 season.

“I was just like ‘Forget you,Cheryl,’” Williams-Strong said, kiddingly. “I guess it just was never meant to be.”

The coaching changes would follow Williams-Strong again as a pro as she ended up playing for 11 coaches during an eight-year WNBA career.

Still, Williams-Strong enjoyed some success at the highest level of her sport.

In 2003, Williams-Strong was a WNBA All-Star.

For her career while suiting up for four teams (4 1/2 spent with Phoenix), Williams-Strong averaged 5.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 0.9 steals.

“My basketball career might not have gone exactly how I would’ve planned it,” Williams-Strong said. “But there were some fun times.

“The further I get away from it, the more I appreciate it all.”

Perhaps her biggest sense of satisfaction comes when her children ask Williams-Strong about basketball.

“It’s funny because they say ‘Mommy, were you really good in basketball? Like really good?’” Williams-Strong said. “Then I get to tell them, ‘Yeah, you know what, Mommy was pretty good.’

“It wasn’t easy. But I was pretty good.”

2019 induction class

The other new members are:

Andrea Duran, who was a standout athlete at Selma High, played on two NCAA softball championship teams at UCLA. She won Olympic silver with Team USA in the 2008 Beijing Games (the last time softball was played in the Olympics) and played nine seasons of U.S. professional softball, including being named Player of the Year in 2014.

Matt Giordano, whose nine-year NFL career included playing on the 2007 Indianapolis Colts’ Super Bowl championship team. He also played two seasons (2011-12) with the Oakland Raiders. He’s the head football coach at his alma mater, Buchanan High.

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Buchanan High football coach Matt Giordano talks during the opening day of fall camp on Monday, July 29, 2019. Anthony Galaviz agalaviz@fresnobee.com

The 1960 Roosevelt American Legion baseball team that won the California state championship and finished runner-up at the regional finals. That team’s coach, Jake Abbott (1986) and leading player Wade Blasingame (1985) are already enshrined in the FCAHOF as individuals.

The 1967 Fresno Volleyball Club team that won the national championship. The nine-player team included John Alstrom, a 1991 FCAHOF individual inductee.

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