Why Courtney Williams is the key to the Sun extending the WNBA Finals

UNCASVILLE, Conn. -- Don Williams knew his daughter was special when she refused to inbound the ball during her earliest basketball games as a child. She believed she was the best shooter on the team, and she didn't want to miss out on the chance to score.

She would do everything she could to avoid being the one who had to make the pass: pretend she didn't see it, run down to the other end of the floor or sometimes just flat out stand there and wait for someone else to do it and pass it to her.

Don thought it was hilarious, but was also impressed with her confidence at such a young age. He knew she could go far in the sport with her mental strength.

Don's daughter is Courtney Williams, now the star guard on the Connecticut Sun, and she still has the same self-belief that stood out during her youth basketball days. In fact, it's sort of her calling card. She has become the heart and soul of the team, with her constant positivity and ability to create plays and runs during the Sun's most desperate and crucial moments.

Don has become the biggest cheerleader of Courtney and the Sun, and he has been a beloved fixture and the unofficial mascot on the sidelines throughout the team's postseason run. The father-daughter pair have become known for hyping up each other, and the team and fans, as well as for their undeniable swag.

"It's exhilarating," Don Williams said Monday. "Just being here and thinking, 'That's my little girl!' During the semifinals against [the Los Angeles Sparks], I kept thinking, 'We're really here!' I was surprised when people started paying attention to me. I mean, it's all Courtney and what she's doing, and I'm just getting her drip. It's dripping down to me."

Following a successful college career at South Florida, Courtney was drafted eighth overall by the Phoenix Mercury in 2016 and traded to the Sun shortly into her rookie season. She made an impact with her new team almost immediately, and her numbers have been on the rise every season since. The 25-year old started every game this year for the first time in her career and averaged 13.2 points, 3.8 assists, 5.6 rebounds in just over 29 minutes per game in the regular season.

After losing Game 3 on Sunday, the Sun now find themselves with their backs against the wall heading into Tuesday's matchup. Normally one to feed off a loud crowd -- it was a sellout -- and shine when the lights are brightest, Williams uncharacteristically struggled in the loss. She had just six points, four assists and four rebounds in 34 minutes. As her teammates often look to her to get them going, almost everyone seemed to struggle at times.

"Courtney is energy," Connecticut coach Curt Miller said Monday. "She keeps it loose, she's got a positive attitude, she's not going to lose confidence. We got Courtney to her spots where she likes on the floor, and she just didn't have as good a night as she's had in some of these playoffs, but she's not going to lose confidence over that. More than usual, it affected her at the defensive end, and we need more from her than we got on defense in Game 3, and she takes that in -- she knows she has to do better, and isn't upset with that criticism.

"It's been such a coming-out party for Courtney in these playoffs, and she's finally getting the national attention she deserves. She'll be ready [in Game 4]. She's never backed down from a challenge, that's for sure."

During practice on Monday afternoon, the team seemed loose and relaxed and didn't appear to be in panic mode. Williams, per usual, was in the center of it all and was seen joking around with her teammates and laughing throughout. Don sat on the bench watching, as he has often done during the playoffs. An outsider would likely have had no idea the team was one loss away from its season ending in disappointment.

But Courtney Williams isn't scared or nervous about Tuesday's do-or-die showdown (ESPN2, 8 p.m. ET). She has been working her whole life for this opportunity. In fact, she's relishing the chance to stave off elimination and extend the series in front of another devoted home crowd and a national television audience. She joked her inconsistent effort was because her mom, Michelle, was in the crowd for the first time this season and said she is not allowed back on Tuesday. (In actuality, Michelle was never planning on staying as she has to get back to her job, but Courtney and Don both think it's funny to call her a bad-luck charm.)

"I've already forgotten about Game 3, like I forget about every shot that I miss," Courtney said after Monday's practice. "In one, out the other. It's just who I am. We've got a game to get ready for, and we've still got a chance to win a championship.

"... It's win-or-go-home, that's just facts. But honestly nothing changes for me. I try to keep that positive energy flowing, and making sure everyone knows that no matter what the score is, we're always in the game regardless. We always can go on a run, anything can happen, so let's play hard the whole game and do what we can to make things happen."

Whether the Sun win their first WNBA title in franchise history this week remains to be seen, but Don is certain Courtney will hold the championship trophy at some point in the near future. He has known it for a long time and is glad everyone else is starting to see her talent and potential.

"I've been screaming about it from Day 1," he said, in between high fives and greetings from team fans and staff. "Everyone thought I was just this crazy dad. Just talk to her high school coaches, her college coaches, her AAU coaches.

"I feel like she still hasn't gotten the recognition for who she really is and how good she is. Connecticut and the fans here are just finally noticing now. But she's gonna be an All-Star, she's gonna be an MVP, she's gonna have a couple of rings. Yeah, I said that. Remember that."