Amy Williams had just touched down in Minneapolis, Minnesota, when she got the call from Nebraska to turn around and come home. This was in mid-March and the Husker women’s basketball coach, along with one of her assistant coaches, was on the road to visit a 2021 guard prospect—Kendall Coley—who’d soon after commit to Nebraska.
The recruiting calendar for women’s basketball is unique. March is a contact period, “So our ability to go make home visits off campus is kind of right smack in the middle of when you’re trying to prepare for postseason play,” Williams said.
So when the COVID-19 pandemic shut the sporting world down during that second week of March, and the Huskers’ season ended before what likely would have been a NIT Tournament bid, for the months that followed Williams had unexpected time on her hands.
April is big for recruiting.
“That’s the first time where we can, in our sport, bring juniors on campus for official visits,” she said. “So, obviously, spring football weekend is a huge weekend. As soon as the Final Four is over, that following weekend we can start doing campus visits and official visits.
“During the week we’re in a position where our post-season can only consist of eight hours a week and so we’re doing usually just some small group (stuff) and individual skill instruction … but, it’s eight hours a week. I would say the rest of that month for us as a coaching staff looks a lot like preparing for campus visits and having kids touring campus and really being able to showcase what we’re doing.”
Nebraska got none of that. No spring game. No official visits. Midway through April, the various Husker coaching staffs were being told to stay away from the office. Outside of one weekend in April when Williams goes to Virginia for an AAU showcase as part of the Boo Williams Summer League, there isn’t any evaluating. It’s all about showing off what you have.
Williams craves schedule. As any coach.
“I think we’re kind of creatures of habit and I would say that we still try to create as much schedule as we can and continue to be productive, but it just looks a little different,” she said.
She’d still try to keep her morning routine: up early, go for a walk before Zoom meetings on Zoom meetings on Zoom meetings. There’d be a recruiting meeting through FaceTime with her staff.
As any parent can probably relate to during this WFH era, she had a meeting interrupted here and there by her youngest daughter.
“Sometimes it’s difficult for my 10-year-old to understand I’m home but I still have (work),” Williams said as she started to laugh. “There might have been a couple times where she popped into my office while I was on a Zoom call asking for some help with whatever it might be in the kitchen or something like that.”
What was nice was that instead of her normal summer schedule, Williams had time in-between meetings for family. Whereas she’d normally be at the office all day, she could take a few minutes to go fix her daughter some lunch and sit and talk.
Williams’ oldest daughter is about to start high school. While her younger daughter, who just finished up fourth grade, needed a little bit of guidance with school still, her oldest was rather independent.
“She’s very self-motivated,” Williams says. "She didn’t make any grades lower than a 95, so she can get up and log in and do what she needs to do and have her work done before 10 a.m.”
Which means when Williams gets those little pockets in her day when she can step away from the laptop in her office, she can take the girls and they can all get out of the house.
“There were plenty of days were after they got done with remote learning and they just wanted and needed to get out of the house, we’d go drive around and we’d do carpool karaoke, just me and my two daughters would take turns on picking a song and who was doing karaoke for that song as we just kind of drove around Lincoln,” she said.
What was Williams’ go-to song?
“My go-to is ‘I Want to Dance with Somebody’ by Whitney Houston.”
And the best voice?
“My oldest daughter,” Williams said. “She can knock it out of the park, without question.”
They took a picnic or two. They opened their pool a little earlier than normal, which Williams called a “lifesaver.” Anything to get out of the house for a little while. Some normalcy in wacky times.
April and May, work-wise, were quiet on the recruiting front while Williams tried to work through COVID-related logistics with the rest of Nebraska’s athletic department. July has featured some excitement.
“For us, July is a huge evaluation month,” she said. “We get like 14 days out of July that we’re bouncing all over watching games from eight in the morning until midnight sometimes, and then move on to the next tournament and do it again.”
With the in-person component scratched in a number of places, the various tournaments and showcases have adapted. In states that have allowed sports to go on so far, events have set up livestreams for coaches to tune in remotely. Williams was watching a game in Indianapolis the morning we talked.
That element created a rather unique experience.
“What’s been really crazy just from my perspective as a mom and as a parent is that, normally during July, I’m gone for most of the month and my husband (Lloyd) is here toting our girls to all of their activities,” Williams said. “But now that I have a daughter that’s about to enter high school and she’s playing a little bit more on that circuit, last weekend she was playing in one of the events and I was sitting at home watching a live stream of my own daughter playing. We kind of flip-flopped roles a little bit.”
Lloyd is a big golfer, about the only sport with baked-in social distancing. So he’s had his own kind of retreat. Williams jokes she doesn’t think he’s ready for her to go back to work yet, but says you might get a different answer if you ask him.
Williams is just being modest. Families have clung to the time together during time apart. Williams’ family is no different. Everyone wants to return to sport, but hitting pause on the outside world can be its own kind of reprieve. People naturally search for the silver lining in things.
“It’s very, very hard just having limited access to your team and your players and you crave those connections,” she said. “There’s been some things that have been really challenging and hard about that. But, there’s silver linings to just what we’ve been able to do work-wise and taking a step back and really kind of evaluating and delving deep into (the team). Instead of it being kind of mass chaos while you’re flying from Indianapolis to Washington D.C. to this event and then to go to this event and sitting in the gym and evaluating this, it provides (more) time to delve into the core characteristics and values of the program.
“(And) I would most definitely say that I feel like it’s been a blessing from God just to have some opportunities to really connect with my own family and my own children and kind of take that step back a little bit.”
Swapping plane rides and strategy for car trips and harmonizing isn’t such a bad thing, after all.
This is the second entry in a series during which Hail Varsity is looking at how different Husker coaches managed their time away from sports over the past few months, what quarantine looked like, and what it meant to be home with family. Last week’s featured a look into baseball coach Will Bolt’s summer. Keep an eye out for a new entry next week.
Derek is a newbie on the Hail Varsity staff covering Husker athletics. In college, he was best known as ‘that guy from Twitter.’ He has covered a Sugar Bowl, a tennis national championship and almost everything in between (except an NCAA men’s basketball tournament game… *tears*). In his spare time, he can be found arguing with literally anyone about sports.