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From thumps to yells, the journey of elite point guard Kiana Williams

Point guard Kiana Williams has literally been handed the keys to drive the Wagner program as a senior. Courtesy Kenneth Deckard

When point guard Kiana Williams sets up a teammate for an open shot, she has a habit of yelling -- really yelling -- an emphatic two-word phrase.

"Yes, ma'am!"

What happens next is almost always a bucket.

"When she yells, 'Yes, ma'am,' it makes you feel good," teammate Da'Nasia Hood said. "It gives you confidence."

Williams, who plays for Wagner (San Antonio), has given her teammates and coaches full confidence for years. She averaged 17 points, five rebounds, four assists and 2.5 steals last season, earning first-team Class 6A all-state honors.

She's also the No. 8 player in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100 for the 2017 class. This weekend, the 5-foot-7 Williams will make an official visit to Stanford, and she could make a decision on college by Sunday. She's also considering Oregon State, Baylor and Texas Tech.

Williams, 17, certainly has the credentials for college -- she owns a 4.0 GPA and ranks 14th in her senior class. She enjoys math and English and is interested in a career as a sports commentator.

"If somebody makes a higher grade than me, I want to do even more," said Williams, whose goal is to be ranked in the top 10 by the end of the school year. "I'm very competitive."

Catching on

Williams, the daughter of LaChelle and Michael Williams, learned how to compete from watching her family. Michael played linebacker at Texas Southern University. And Kiana's oldest brother, 30-year-old Chancy Campbell, was a running back at Abilene Christian University.

When Kiana was in third grade, she asked her father to teach her basketball. Michael, who admits he is "old school," told his daughter that girls don't play basketball. Kiana insisted, and her reluctant father went with her to their front yard and winged a pass her way. It hit her in the head.

"I threw it pretty hard," said Michael, who was about 10 yards away. "It hit her in the face, and she went back inside to her mother, crying."

Kiana said the ball hit her above her right eye, causing some redness.

Undeterred, Kiana regrouped and dragged her father back outside. Same thing ... Dad took aim, and the ball hit her in the head again.

Kiana finally caught the ball on the third try. At that point, her father decided she was ready for the next step.

That phase of Kiana's basketball education, while not as painful, was unexpected as well. Rather than go to a park to shoot, Michael spent an entire month with Kiana in the driveway of their house, practicing dribbling.

Only when she had sufficiently mastered that skill did she start learning how to shoot.

"Those were teachable moments," Kiana said. "I've grown so much from those experiences. It taught me mental and physical toughness."

Williams said the ball-handling drills she did with her father have stuck with her long-term.

"You can't create your own shot if you can't dribble," she said. "It's a process, and I needed to stay patient and develop my skills."

By the time Williams was in fourth grade, she had a hoop in her driveway, and her father had started an AAU basketball team called SA Hoopers. All the girls on the team were in sixth grade except for Williams. Two years later, Williams was playing -- and starring -- against girls who were five grades ahead of her.

Michael, who had once thought that basketball wasn't for girls, now knows he was wrong.

"She's the best athlete in the family," he said, "hands down."

The next step

In the Williams household, there is a definite pecking order: God first, then school and then basketball. Even so, Williams often wakes up at 5 a.m. to put up shots at her high school gym.

Koty Cowgill, her AAU coach with SA Finest, has known Williams since she was in seventh grade, and he has always been impressed. Back then, he was an assistant coach at the University of Texas-San Antonio, and he was well aware that Williams was a "high end" point guard.

"You could see the development -- you could see it coming," Cowgill said. "You could see she had the tools to become what she is today -- a player with great speed who is versatile and under control. She defends end to end and makes the game easier for her teammates. She would fit in any system."

To get even better, Cowgill said, Williams needs to get stronger, continue to work on her 3-point shot and fine-tune her education as a point guard.

"It's just having that master's degree in point guard play," Cowgill said. "That is on the near horizon for her because she is really bright, and people gravitate toward her. Nobody will ever question her integrity or her heart."

Williams, who is a fan of the "Fast and the Furious" film series, has a need for speed on the court, and it looks like she will be able to run full throttle this season. There's a new coach at Wagner, Jeff Ogden. He was a boys head coach at San Antonio Edison, but he jumped at the chance to coach Wagner's girls.

"I coach basketball," Ogden said. "It doesn't matter to me, boys or girls. The opportunity was there, and I went for it because Wagner is a great program."

It didn't hurt, however, knowing that Williams was in place. Ogden has known Kiana and her family for several years, coaching as a fellow assistant at a previous stop alongside Chancy. Williams was in seventh grade at the time, and she used to come visit her brother at the Sam Houston High gym.

"Kiana would come to shootarounds," Ogden said, "and I could tell she had a lot of talent."

On the first day after Ogden was hired at Wagner, he met with Williams and did something he said was completely spontaneous.

"I pulled some keys out of my pocket and I handed them to her," Ogden said. "I told her, 'You are driving us this season. I'm just the GPS.' "

Sure enough, Williams comes by Ogden's class almost every day. Sometimes they talk about basketball, and other times they talk about life. Williams has taken ownership of the team. Sometimes she will grab a post player in practice and work with her for 30 minutes; sometimes she will stop a drill and have her teammates run it again if it has not been executed properly.

"She gets the whole team right," Hood said. "If we do something wrong, she will tell us in a respectful way."

And if they do something right?

"Yes, ma'am!"