By Corbin McGuire
In some ways, Peyton Williams’ time on the 2019 U.S. Pan American Games Women’s Team reflected her first season at K-State.
There was more than a week of two-a-day practices. Because of her volleyball schedule, she had last experienced that as a true freshman in basketball. She also lived in a dorm with a roommate while in Lima, Peru, where she ate at a dining hall. Her minutes on the silver-medal squad were limited as well.
Like her freshman year as a Wildcat, it was a lot of learning. Only this time, she was with some of the best players in the United States and playing against professionals from all over the Western Hemisphere.
“It was, looking back, interesting to see myself having to deal with that all over again and comparing it to my freshman year, seeing if I could push through in that way,” Williams said. “It was more of trying to be a good teammate where I could and, obviously, a different perspective. I was sitting the bench a lot of the time and encouraging and, when I did get put in, doing my job the best that I could.”
The entire experience, from training camp in Colorado Springs, Colorado to competing in the Pan America Games in a Team USA jersey, reinforced some values Williams already held.
“It helps you not take anything for granted, absolutely, and making sure you convey how valued every person on the team is because every person is putting in all the effort. Two-a-days for 10 days is no joke with some of the best. I think that carries over here as well,” the senior said. “Also, when you’re on the court, making sure you give 100 percent because we were representing the USA. Obviously, we wanted to do our very best, and that’s the same here. We don’t want to take any moment for granted when we’re on the court.”
Williams did her best to exhibit this mindset when she got on the floor.
The First Team All-Big 12 forward averaged only nine minutes a game in Peru but went 5-of-8 from the field, grabbed 2.8 rebounds and scored 3.0 points a game. Her rebounds-per-minute average (0.31) exceeded that of her junior season (0.27) at K-State, while her points-per-minute average (0.33) was only a tenth lower.
K-State women’s basketball head coach Jeff Mittie, who traveled to Peru for the Pan American Games, said he was impressed by Williams’ improvement in handling the international game’s quicker pace and how she handled the physicality of playing against many current professionals, some more than a decade older than her.
Williams’ top statistical outing came against the U.S. Virgin Islands, which she recorded 10 points, six rebounds, three steals and two assists in a blowout win. Arguably more impressive and important in Team USA’s run to the gold-medal game, Mittie said, was Williams’ 3:46 of action in a semifinal win against Puerto Rico.
“We were down in that game and she was a plus-five in only four minutes of playing time,” he said. “So, her minutes were significant in a game to get to the gold medal game.”
After this game, Mittie said his favorite moment from the tournament occurred via a text conversation with Williams.
“She had played the four really significant minutes, and I said, ‘Your minutes were good tonight,’ and her comment to me, basically, was, ‘I will do whatever it takes to win the gold medal tomorrow, whether that’s on the bench screaming until I lose my voice or if that’s 20 minutes,'” he said. “From my coaching standpoint, I was proud to get that text from her, knowing that if I get 40 minutes, I’m going to be ready. If I get zero minutes, I’m going to do whatever it takes to help my team win gold. Now, they came up short, but it certainly wasn’t because of her attitude. She had a very selfless attitude.”
Williams said the experience was more than she ever imagined coming out of Cair Paravel Latin School in Topeka. Ever since her freshman year at K-State, she said she’s needed others to help boost her confidence. This trip, playing alongside All-Americans and future WNBA Draft picks, helped her stimulate that internally.
“There were times on this trip where I thought, ‘This is crazy.’ That was part of my journey through all of this was reassuring myself that I’m good enough to be here over and over again. When you’re with the best, it’s hard,” she said. “I think it was good to experience that because I kind of had to be my own hype man, in some ways. It was nice because the coaches here reassure me, ‘You can do this. You can shoot the ball. Your percentages are there. Even if you don’t feel it, you’re there.’
“That wasn’t the case at camp because everyone’s trying do their own thing as much as they can in 10 days. So, it was helpful just to build my own confidence and be my own source of confidence.”
Source: Kansas State Sports