Doc On The Block

by Ryan Jones / portrait Michael Rubenstein

For the most talented high school players, the physical demands of making the jump to college basketball often aren’t that big a deal. The mental challenge, though, is a different story. Things move so much more quickly at the next level. The stakes are higher. Good decision-making is vital. And that, Elizabeth Williams knows, is just off the court.

Williams is already well versed in the whole decision-making thing. As arguably the top player in the Class of ’11, she made a big-time college choice last fall, choosing Duke over Tennessee, North Carolina, Virginia and Penn State. In time, the 6-3 forward from Virginia Beach (VA) Princess Anne may even have to decide between med school and professional ball. Her genes—dad’s a gastroenterologist and mom’s a nurse—and history of academic excellence imply Williams would make a terrific doctor. And her dazzling play on the hardwood leaves little doubt about her future in the WNBA.

“I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was little, and I try not to think too far ahead,” she says. “But things can change.”

Williams’ destiny rests in her own capable hands, and scouts have no question about her abilities on the court. The nation’s dominant post player scores at will around the basket, gobbles up rebounds and scares the life out of the opposition with her shot-blocking prowess. She takes particular pride in her work on defense. “I like blocking shots. It’s just a mental thing,” Williams says. “I like being able to stop somebody as opposed to just scoring on them. Stopping the other team’s offensive threat is a big deal.”

Williams says she expects to have an “immediate impact” for a Duke program that doesn’t need a lot of help—the Blue Devils are one of the nation’s elite programs, with three Final Four appearances in the past decade—but is still looking for that player to lead it to the pinnacle. “They’ve never won a National Championship, and I’d like to help them do that,” Williams says.

Choosing Duke didn’t come as a surprise, but Williams did shock some observers by not even having mighty UConn in her final five. It’s universally assumed that any consensus top-5 player will at least have the Huskies on her short list. “I got a lot of comments about that,” Williams says. “But I was like, I don’t want to go there. Really.” She says it’s nothing against UConn, and while the Lady Vols and their full trophy case were her runner-up, Williams likes the idea of helping the Blue Devils make history. “Only a certain amount of people can say they’re the first at something.”

The player to finally lead Duke to its first national title? The first future WNBA All-Star turned brain surgeon? All of this seems within Williams’ substantial reach, though she says she’s taking nothing for granted. On the court, she knows she needs to continue working on her handle and extending her range, acknowledging that, “I’m not going to be the tallest person on the court anymore.” As for her post-playing career? “I still have time,” she says. “I mean, if I played professionally for a long time, it’d probably be too late to get back into medicine. But if I only played professionally for a year or two, I don’t know—I don’t like to start something and not finish it.”

Decisions, decisions. Something tells us Williams will make the right ones—on and off the court.