Danni Williams finds new way to soar
Soaring as high as 18 feet off the ground, Danni Williams was a rising star in motocross. That was before her parents let the air out of her tires.
Fearing that she might become seriously injured, her parents, Regan and Michelle Williams, pulled her from the sport.
"I loved [motocross]," said Williams, 17, a two-time Gatorade state girls basketball player of the year in New Mexico who will be a senior this fall at Clovis. "I wish I didn't have to stop. It was heartbreaking. To me, racing was a thrill and an adrenaline rush, for sure."
Her adrenaline rushes now come from basketball, where Williams, an athletic 5-foot-10 guard, soars for rebounds and speeds down the lane, showing the same fearlessness she displayed in her previous sport.
Williams, who averaged 24 points last season and is the No. 42 prospect in the country in the espnW HoopGurlz Super 60 for the 2015 class, committed to Texas A&M on Wednesday.
Her AAU coach, Robert Sanchez, said Williams had offers from 14 of the teams that made the Sweet 16 of the 2014 NCAA tournament. The only exceptions were Notre Dame and Connecticut, he said.
Williams said she liked the family and competitive atmosphere at Texas A&M.
"They compete for national titles, and that's what I wanted," Williams said. "And it's pretty close to home."
The Aggies will be getting a skilled left-handed player, especially on the offensive end.
In her three years so far on varsity, Williams has led Clovis to a combined record of 84-7 and three straight berths in the final four, including a state title in 2013.
"She can score in multiple ways,'' Clovis coach Jeff Reed said. "She's not just stuck at the 3-point line. She has a midrange game, she can penetrate and take it to the rim."
Williams also averaged 5.6 rebounds, 3.0 steals and 2.8 assists last season, and Sanchez loves her all-around game.
"She is the best rebounding guard in the country -- period," said Sanchez, who coaches the New Mexico-Texas Heat Elite. "She can guard any player on the court. And she is very creative offensively.
"Danni is probably the best player I've ever coached."
Sanchez first saw Williams when she was a skinny, physically unimposing 5-foot-4 seventh-grader. Sanchez didn't expect much.
Then he looked over to her father, who is 6-7 and played junior college basketball, and the coach thought, "Hmm ... maybe she will grow."
Then the scrimmage began, and Williams rained seven 3-pointers on the unsuspecting competition.
"And I'm thinking: Are you serious?" Sanchez said. "She has this innocent face, but she plays like an assassin."
Williams was plenty serious, even though she was dividing her energy at the time between basketball and motocross.
From ages 5 to 12, she competed ferociously on her bike. At age 9, she won a Women's Motocross Association national title in the 10- and 11-year-old category. Two years later, racing against older girls again, she won the WMA 12-13 national title.
Regan, who raced motocross during his youth, bought bikes for his daughter and her two older brothers when she was 5. But Danni's love for motocross quickly outgrew her brothers' passion for the sport.
Soon enough, the family was traveling around the country for Danni's competitions. She even raced inside Houston's Reliant Stadium.
The better Williams got, the faster she raced and the higher she soared ... and the more concerned her parents grew.
"You would see her at the tops of telephone poles," said Regan, describing the heights Williams was reaching in motocross. "She kept moving up to bigger and faster bikes, and my wife and I lost our nerve."
Williams was so locked in that she didn't feel as if the danger applied to her.
"[At the time], racing felt awesome," Williams said. "I wanted more. I wanted to go faster and higher.
"But I understand now why my parents wanted me to [stop]. There is less of a chance of getting seriously hurt in basketball."
Williams admits she cried when motocross was taken from her, and she was upset again recently when her dad sold her bike. Even though she hadn't raced in five years, the selling off of the bike reopened that emotional wound with a sense of finality.
Fortunately for Williams, she has other talents. She is a 4.24 student at Clovis, where she ranks No. 1 in the senior class of 409.
Then there's basketball. She made the varsity as a freshman, averaging 10 points as a key reserve on a team that went 25-4 and made it to the state semifinals.
She became a starter as a sophomore, leading her team to a 30-2 record and a Class 5A state title. She averaged 20.5 points and won her first Gatorade Player of the Year award.
Last season, she led Clovis to a 29-1 record, but it was upset in the state semifinals by Volcano Vista (Albuquerque), a team it had beaten by 15 in the regular season. Williams scored 18 points in the rematch, a 52-45 loss.
Williams suffered another loss of sorts when her favorite team, the Miami Heat, fell to the San Antonio Spurs in the NBA Finals.
Her favorite player is Miami guard Dwyane Wade.
"We have the same initials, and I like the way he plays -- his midrange is really nice," Williams said.
"It was upsetting to see [the Heat] go so far and come up short, because the same thing happened to me this past season."