On Monday night, Jackson State Tigers women’s basketball saw its star player Ameysha Williams-Holiday become the first player from an HBCU to be drafted into the WNBA in two decades.
Denique Graves was the first HBCU player picked in the WNBA draft, selected 15th overall by the Sacramento Monarchs in 1997. A year later, her former teammate Karen Wilkins was the 38th overall pick by Phoenix.
According to HBCU Game Day, “Five years later a trio of HBCU stars were plucked in the draft — Howard’s Andrea Gardner (2nd round, 27th overall), North Carolina Central’s Amba Kongolo (4th round, 56th overall) and Southern’s Jacklyn Winfield (4th round, 59th overall).”
She also made history by becoming the first player from Jackson State to be drafted. In all, she’s the sixth player to ever be drafted from an HBCU since the inception of the WNBA in 1996. The Indiana Fever, who had a record six picks in the 36-pick draft, chose the 6-foot-4 center with the first selectio of the third round.
Williams-Holiday’s improbable rise to drafted WNBA player is another victory for HBCU athletics, long considered the underdog in D-1 college sports.
Should we believe that there hasn’t been an HBCU women’s hoops player good enough to at least be drafted since 50 Cent Dropped “Get Rich Or Die Tryin”? Hard to believe, but Williams-Holiday’s historic day is in line with the growing presence of HBCU athletics overall.
With the 25th pick of the WNBA Draft, the Indiana Fever have selected Ameysha Williams-Holiday of Jackson State.
She is the first HBCU player drafted in 19 years and the 2nd-highest drafted HBCU player in league history. pic.twitter.com/ueDdWsOt0m
— Front Office Sports (@FOS) April 12, 2022
Every win is a significant one, as HBCU supporters such as Jackson State head coach Deion Sanders continue to lament the lack of respect HBCU athletes have received by the major pro franchises.
The Pro Football Hall of Famer and 2021 Eddie Robinson award winner congratulated the basketball star via video on “Thee Pregame Show” YouTube channel:
“Congratulations to our women’s basketball player defensive player of the year. I think she got every award you could possibly give her.
Ameysha, we’re always so darn proud of you. We appreciate you. You are the beginning, and that’s what history should be, ladies first.
We thank you for being the genesis of what’s transpiring at Jackson State, God bless you. I’m just grateful and thankful. I’m really lost for words. I don’t know what to say. It’s just unbelievable to me.”
Williams Has Been The Centerpiece Of The Program
Williams-Holiday has been the backbone of the JSU Tigers team since her arrival in 2019. She’s been named SWAC Defensive Player of the Year the past three seasons. She also was named first-team All-SWAC in all three seasons.
She capped her illustrious JSU career by being named SWAC Player of the Year. With that illustrious honor she became the first player to win both POY and DPOY in the same season since 2019.
Over those three season her averages of 16.1 points, 11.2 rebounds and 2.9 blocks per game led the Tigers to 60 total wins. Williams-Holiday was a multi-talented force, scoring in double-figures 71 times. She also had 53 games with at least 10 rebounds, including 52 double-doubles (with two 20-20 games). On defense she had 60 games with at least two rejections.
Williams-Holiday Overcame Adversity Upon Arrival At JSU
AWH began her career at Mississippi State, but after two trying years, she lost her passion for buckets and crossovers, quit the team and dropped out of school. She was convinced that basketball was in the rearview until JSU Tigers head coach Tomekia Reed convinced her to give it another try. At the time, AWH was three months pregnant, but Reed provided support systems beyond the normal duties of a basketball coach and guided her through that trying time and helped nurture her growth into a WNBA draft pick.
In an interview after the draft, Reed said:
“Since Day One when she stepped foot on the JSU campus, she has been phenomenal for our program. She (AWH) has made history year after year and game after game. … And to get drafted as high as she did today, she’s continuing to blaze trails. She’s continuing to make history. I am just one proud coach.”
— Tomekia Reed (@CoachTReed) April 13, 2022
Williams still has her work cut out for her, as since 1997 42 percent of WNBA draft picks didn’t make rosters. She’ll be vying for one of those 144 coveted roster spots in the 12-team league.