From the family farm to college hoops

Williams shows promise in first year at Mount Olive

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Williams’ Produce in Autryville has a wide selection of freshly grown foods: tomatoes, corn, squash, canataloupe, okra, watermelons, cucumbers — just about anything you can grow on a farm. But the most impressive product of Williams’ Produce might be a college basketball player.

Leah Williams grew up on the family farm and has been part of the family business her entire life. Life on the farm is definitely different, but she’s thankful for her upbringing.

“I loved it as a kid,” Williams said. “I got to run around everywhere barefooted, get dirty and experience what God has blessed us with. It’s definitely helped shape the person I’ve become.”

Farming definitely isn’t for everyone though. A lot of toil and struggle goes into producing the highest quality foods. But Williams learned that anything worth doing is worth the extra time and effort.

“It’s a lot of hard work for sure,” Williams said. “But in the end it’s helped me a lot, because I can take the values I learned from the farm and use them in other areas of my life. You don’t get a lot of breaks on the farm, and you have to go hard in everything you do and always put your best foot forward.”

Outside of farming, Williams always loved to play basketball. She’d shoot hoops with her dad on the old goal on the farm, with the backboard faded and the net worn out. And she loved playing with her friends on her parks and recreation team. The five girls were a tight-knit group, and they played together all the way through their senior year at Midway in 2018.

Williams ran the show as the team’s point guard. She led the Raiders with 21.1 points, 4.6 assists and 4.1 steals per game in her senior campaign. Midway finished 23-3 that year and earned a share of the East Central Conference regular season championship.

Williams finished her year with an astounding 1,434 points, was named East Central Conference Player of the Year and was selected to the North Carolina East-West All-Star game.

“That was amazing,” Williams said of the East-West game. “It was a humbling experience. I met a lot of new people, and a lot of them were more athletic. It was a new style of game for me, but it was also a lot of fun to go up against some of the best players in the state.”

After her senior season, Williams decided to continue both her basketball career and her education at the University of Mount Olive. The chance to play college basketball was a big part of her decision, but even bigger for Williams was the quality of UMO’s agribusiness and agriculture education program.

“Playing college basketball has been my dream ever since I was a kid,” Williams said. “And I’ve always known I wanted to study agriculture. I’ve known farming my whole life. At this point it’s a part of who I am.”

Williams saw some ups and downs in her freshman year at UMO. She found herself much further down the bench than she was used to in her time at Midway. At times she felt overwhelmed. But her humble roots prepared her for the challenges ahead, and she had a lot of promising moments.

In the season opener at Saint Augustine’s, Williams scored nine points on 3-of-4 shooting from the 3-point line in 25 minutes off the bench.

“I wasn’t expecting to play as much as I did,” Williams said. “I just went all out while I was out there. I wanted to make the most of every second that I was on the court.”

Williams had another big showing at home against Southern Wesleyan. UMO trailed 54-47 going into the fourth quarter. But in a span of about five minutes, Williams scored 11 points in the period to give the Trojans the lead and help propel them to victory.

Williams prides herself on her ability to shoot from distance, as well as her vision and her ability to read the game. Those are valuable skills as a point guard, and she feels that as she continues to adjust to the level of play she can become more of a leader in the locker room.

UMO made a nice run in the Conference Carolinas tournament, but fell to No. 1 seed Emmanuel. The experience was fun for Williams, but next season she wants to go even further.

“I’m looking forward to next season,” Williams said. “Now that I know how things work here, I’m looking forward to getting more involved with my teammates and contributing more on the court. And I think we could have a really good team this year, and hopefully we can make a run at the conference title.”

Williams said she was appreciative of the opportunities she received that led her to UMO.

“I couldn’t have made it here without all of my coaches,” Williams said. “Parks and rec, middle school, high school, they all taught me something valuable. And I couldn’t have done it without the love and support of my family, and the values they taught me working on the farm.”

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