This just doesn’t happen. A painfully shy, impoverished girl from the McClure Projects in Pahokee doesn’t wind up featured on ESPN SportsCenter.
But that is exactly where Riquna “Bay Bay’’ Williams, the former University of Miami women’s basketball star, found herself Monday afternoon, a day after setting a WNBA scoring record with 51 points in the Tulsa Shock’s 98-65 win over the San Antonio Silver Stars.
Though it was just a phone interview, her face and stats were prominently displayed on the screen, and she was a nervous wreck as she waited to go live.
“I’ve spent my whole life watching all the greats on SportsCenter, watching highlights of famous athletes hitting milestones, and all of a sudden they want to talk to me, this girl people said had no chance of getting out of Pahokee, and I’m thinking, ‘Wow, it really happened, I made it,’ ’’ Williams told the Miami Herald on Tuesday by phone from Tulsa.
Williams, 23, said doing that interview was harder than making eight three-pointers a day earlier.
“I’m really camera shy, and even though nobody could see me, I felt like there were a million eyes in the room with me when I went live, and I didn’t want to mess up because I knew all my friends, family, and fans were watching,’’ she said.
She has not yet had “that perfect quiet moment to take it all in,’’ but she is beginning to appreciate it.
“It is slowly hitting me that I’m in the record books, and I’m finally being recognized for something positive because I didn’t have a great ending to my collegiate career and that is not how I wanted to be remembered,’’ she said, referring to being suspended by UM coaches for the 2012 NCAA Tournament for “conduct detrimental to the team.’’
Details have never been revealed about what Williams did, but the rift between UM coach Katie Meier and Williams has been repaired. Meier was one of the first to congratulate Williams on Sunday.
“It’s like when you’re mad at a family member, it doesn’t last forever,’’ Williams said. “At some point, someone says, ‘OK, this is crazy. We have too much time invested, too many emotions shared to keep being angry.’ Coach Katie taught me a lot about life. She built me up as a person. She’d say, ‘Bay, why are you so shy? Let people hear your voice. You have so much to say.’ I am so happy to have her back in my life, and to know that when I go home, she’s looking forward to seeing me.’’
Williams said after setting the record, she thought back to her childhood in Pahokee, when she regularly hid under her bed and covered her ears to block out the sound of gunshots.
She vowed in ninth grade to get out of Pahokee one day. She would not get pregnant, drop out of school and end up on welfare, she told her friends. She would go to college on an athletic scholarship, land a good job and travel the world.
Her friends laughed at her farfetched dreams. Williams responded by getting a tattoo on her right forearm that says: “Laugh Now, Cry Later.’’
“I told them, you can laugh now, I’m going to make it, and then you’ll be cryin’.’’