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Mike Lopresti | | March 2, 2022

How IUPUI's Macee Williams became the 5th player to be 4-time conference player of the year

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Here’s a strong contender for feat of the week in women’s basketball. But first, a question.

How many Division I products — male or female — have ever won conference player of the year four times? How many were good enough, healthy enough, stayed in one place long enough? Hint: You’ll only need one hand to count them.

IUPUI’s Macee Williams, a small-town Indiana girl with a very big game, just joined the exclusive club when she fourpeated as Horizon League player of the year. So move over . . .

Tony Dunkin for Coastal Carolina in the Big South in the early 1990s. He’s the only man to ever accomplish it.

Jantel Lavender for Ohio State in the Big Ten in 2008-11.

Kim Smith for Utah, then in the Mountain West in 2003-06.

Eun Jung Lee, who arrived at Louisiana Monroe from Korea and was Southland player of the year from 1983-86.

That’s it. Now it’s a group of five. Seven more humans than that have walked on the moon.

The newest member is a 6-2 IUPUI graduate student who is the school’s all-time leading scorer and is closing in on her master’s degree in elementary education — the young woman who, in high school, didn’t even think much of going on to college until her coach encouraged the idea; the young woman who had no clue what she would become.

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Listen to her coach Austin Parkinson about Williams’ celebrated post presence: “I watch a lot of women’s basketball. I don’t care what level, I don’t care what league you’re talking about. If she’s one-on-one on the block, she scores as well as anybody in the country.”

Now listen to Williams:  “I didn’t know any post moves coming from high school.  I was the tallest one so my teammates would just throw it up to me and I would just do a layup. I didn’t know what a hook shot was, or an up-and-under or anything like that.”

Listen to people rave about her soft hands and ability to catch the ball. Parkinson said she reminds him of Zach Randolph, an NBA All-Star from Indiana he once played with. Her high school tennis coach – Williams played doubles and was a terror at the net – said she had the best hands he had ever seen on an athlete, male or female.

Now listen to Williams about having good hands: “I honestly didn’t know what that meant until I got in college.”

Listen to Parkinson again about her overall game: “She’s obviously the best player to ever play here on the women’s side. I think she’s the best player to ever play in the Horizon League.”

Now listen to Williams: “I never in my lifetime would have thought I would be the player I am today.”

Parkinson did. He still remembers the call from Williams informing him that she was coming to IUPUI. He was at the pool with his wife. He turned to her after the call and said, “This is different now.”

And it has been. Two years ago, IUPUI won its first-ever Horizon League tournament, but had its NCAA tournament dream scuttled by COVID. Last year, the Jaguars battled the virus all season and lost the Horizon title game to Wright State. This year, they began 0-2 in the conference, not from losing but because the league forced them to forfeit because of a COVID pause. Most conferences didn’t exact that cost, but the Horizon did with IUPUI.

“It was pretty frustrating as a team,” Williams said. “We don’t know why we got those forfeits while other teams were able to make up the games. But once we ended up playing them again, it was more motivation.”

The forfeits came against Cleveland State and Purdue Fort Wayne. When they played again, the Jaguars won by 18 and 19 points. So there. IUPUI went on to go 21-4 and take the No. 1 seed in the Horizon tournament and now Williams badly wants to do the one thing she has never done — play in the NCAA tournament.

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She was Horizon League freshman of the year in 2018, then really went to work. For the past four years, she has had the consistency and reliability of a tide table. "Having Macee has been an incredible security blanket for our team," Parkinson said.

Her scoring average has ranged between 16.2 and 18.9, her rebounds between 9.0 and 10.0. COVID gave players an extra season in 2021-22 if they wanted it. Williams did not waste the chance. She’s averaged a double-double at 18.1 points and 10 rebounds, and shot 63 percent. She had 19 points when the Jaguars upset Iowa, and 17 when IUPUI took Michigan to overtime in Ann Arbor.

“In both games, they chose to double team her,” Parkinson said. “I’ve watched a lot of Big Ten games and I don’t see them double teaming a lot of posts.”

There was also the time in January when Williams was out 10 days with COVID. Didn’t practice, didn’t do much of anything. She was cleared to return the day IUPUI played at Robert Morris, and promptly put up 18 points and 13 rebounds. Two days later at Youngstown State: 16 and 10.

“Not many players could essentially sit on the couch for a week, and then go out there and play the way she performed,” Parkinson said. “She’s one of a kind.”

“They probably should name the award after her in the future.”

Parkinson knows about playing well over a number of years. When he was a Purdue guard, he led the Big Ten in assist-turnover ratio for three seasons. Now he’s built a power at IUPUI, on the edge of downtown Indianapolis. The NCAA office is across the street from campus. Lucas Oil Stadium is but a few blocks down the street. And 70 minutes away to the northwest is the town of Veedersburg, population just over 2,000, hometown of Macee Williams. Growing up, she had a movable goal in the backyard but no concrete. Played in the grass.

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“Everybody knows everybody. Super small, kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Williams described her hometown.

“I had no idea where Veedersburg was,” Parkinson said. “But I do now.”

Williams yearns for a WNBA chance; that’s one reason she took the extra year. Last season’s COVID-shortened schedule allowed few non-conference chances. She came back to test herself against the Michigans and Iowas of the world. Plus, she wanted another chance at the NCAA tournament. Plus, she liked being part of the team. The opportunity to be a four-time conference player of the year was just a perk.

That’s why a great assist thrills her as much as making a shot. “I’ve got to give it up to my teammates. They make me look really good on the court with my passing ability.”

And that’s why her individual numbers did not take a huge leap this final season. She didn’t come back to pad her stats. “I think the tendency would be `I want to show everybody what I can do, I need to average 25 points a game.’” Parkinson said. “I think it goes to her character, she doesn’t care about that stuff. That’s just never who she’s been. That’s not her personality. She’s never concerned herself about awards”

Wins a lot of them, though.

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