Amid a 12-game win streak, Tammi Reiss’s Rhode Island Rams are 19-3 and undefeated in Atlantic 10 play at 9-0 as they prepare to face Fordham this weekend. It takes a team, of course, but a key cog in the Lady Rams success is graduate transfer point guard Chanell Williams from the Bronx, NY.
A 5-5 sparkplug, Williams is averaging 8.5 points, 4.1 rebounds, and 2.6 assists per game while shooting .890 from the charity stripe. A pace-changer, Williams exudes passion and purpose in all she does.
I caught up with her for a compelling conversation about leadership, basketball, and life.
RHODY WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TAKES ON FORDHAM SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 13TH AT 1PM AND DAYTON ON WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 16TH AT 6PM ON YURVIEW, COX CHANNEL 4 IN RI
Chris DiSano: It’s your first year in the program as a grad transfer. What it’s like to play for Tammi Reiss? How is she unique from others who have coached you?
Chanell Williams: She is very passionate. I’ve had many coaches in my life and they bring energy, but the biggest separator from coaches I’ve had in the past is her passion. She’s always willing to go, she’s always willing to give us that energy. When we’re feeling down, she picks us up. When you have someone around you that has that much energy, she soaks everybody up around her and we all feed off it. She has many great qualities. She’s a great coach, really cares for her players, is a genuine spirit and you can talk with her about anything. But the best thing is her passion. It’s a different level.
CDD: Let’s talk about an obvious one that fans will be curious about. You transferred from Providence to URI. An experience very few have had. How has it been making that jump?
CW: My four years at Providence… I couldn’t ask to be anywhere else, but once COVID hit and the extra year of eligibility was granted to us, I had time to step back and think. I felt complete gratitude for the four years I was there but felt like I needed to find somewhere else where I could create better options in terms of how I could fit with another team. At Providence, I was able to flourish in my own way, but I thought about finding somewhere else and seeing what I could do.
Rhody nation, join us in welcoming Chanell Williams, AKA Agent Zero, to Kingston! Can’t wait to have Chanell in Keaney Blue 💙
— Rhody WBB (@RhodyWBB) March 25, 2021
When I talked to Tammi after putting my name into the transfer portal, everything just clicked. Even when I played against them in previous years, I felt that spirit and energy she brings. Speaking to her and the assistants, I felt like URI was the best place I could be. I knew of URI, of course, but being at Providence we were enemies (laughs), you know, so I didn’t know much else. Tammi, Coach Shoniker, Coach A [Adeniyi Amadou] – all of them, they are the real reason I came here. I felt it. It’s not often you can feel a genuine touch through a phone call. I did. And everything they told me in the beginning and up to now has all been true.
CDD: Tammi has commented that she sees a lot of herself in you and your game. What do you think she sees specifically and how does that make you feel?
CW: First, I feel honored because she was such a great player herself. And she played with great players like Dawn Staley and played against great players.
I think one thing she’s talking about is the energy. She calls me Speedy Gonzalez as I’m racing down the court. I can be hard on myself sometimes when the game isn’t going my way and I’m always thinking about the game. I think she and I have the same type of passion about the game and loving it; trying to accomplish as much as we can in the time we have with it.
CDD: Just this past week you scored your 1,000th career point. A tremendous accomplishment. To be a point guard who is orchestrating, setting defensive tone, being active on the glass from your spot, pushing pace and doing many other things other than scoring to help your team – what does this mean to you?
CW: It’s really big for me. I didn’t even realize how close I was until a couple of games ago when somebody said I was eight points away! I didn’t think about it until then. As I’m here, I’m seeing what type of player I can be and what type of player Coach wants me to be – and how she can help me get there. They are letting me play to the best of my abilities. It’s a big honor and I’m blessed to have this 5th year to try to accomplish all that I want to accomplish.
Chanell Williams reaches 1,000 career points with this bucket! pic.twitter.com/w5vjFatJDW
— Rhody WBB (@RhodyWBB) February 10, 2022
CDD: What area of your game itself do you want to tighten up and continue to improve down the stretch?
CW: For both individual and team success, I’m never satisfied with my game. There’s always a need for improvement and I don’t think it’s one thing. I still need to reach the level of consistency where I feel I can get to a place and “stick” there and be there. Sometimes my speed gets the best of me, I can be too fast and I’m not too fast. Controlling my speed is one of the things I need to continue to work at.
CDD: Let’s talk about streaks. You all won seven straight games to begin the year, lost three straight contests to LBSU, Holy Cross, and Buffalo (teams with a combined 48-17 record now) and have not lost since. What happened during that three-game losing streak where you learned, gelled, and attacked?
CW: I think during that time there was a little miscommunication going on within the team. In the beginning we were winning and never got to a position where our back was against the wall. Once we were put there, that made us disperse a little. That caused frustration. It was us. We were beating ourselves. After those three losses, we had to figure out what went wrong, what can we do together, and how can we get better. That little stretch showed us a whole lot about the importance of team. It helped us. Now we’re on a roll and we can’t stop. Now in close games, for example La Salle, we stuck it out together. That’s because we went through what we went through earlier and learned how we needed to stay together.
CDD: You just spoke about close-and-late situations. You reach an extra gear of focus in those moments: You’re 21-23 from the free throw line, your assist to turnover ratio jumps over 2-to-1… How much pride do you take in doing the little things?
CW: You know, I’m a little player (laughs) so it’s always the little things that matter. Coming to the end of the year and, as a team, we’re on a mission. For me, I’m a point guard and the best way to lead is doing whatever I have to do to make those around me better. The little things may not always be seen, but they are what win games. As I’ve gotten more experienced, I notice them even more. That’s what’s on my mind.
CDD: What would it mean for you to help propel this team to an NCAA Tournament berth? I know you have to focus on a game at a time, but let’s look broad just for a minute…
CW: It would mean everything. My biggest dream is winning the championship game and being a championship team. All these accomplishments have been great, but the one thing we’ve all been searching for and what I and others came here for is to win a championship. I wake up in the morning every day and say to myself, “I want to be a champion.” Saying that gives me the motivation to keeping being the best I can be for those around me… to do every little thing that can help me do my part to lead us to being champions.
CDD: What does the team need to continue to do to get where you all want to go?
CW: Continue to stay on the same page, believe we’re champions, believe we’ll get there, and believe we can be that team. Staying with the same focus and energy. We’ve all been on that route. It’s getting late in the season and teams can get tired and let up. Our biggest thing is we never want to let up against any opponent.
CDD: I know you’re from the Bronx. Are you a Yankees fan like me?!
CW: You know, everybody asks me that. I’m fond of the Yankees but don’t watch baseball as much. I do have possession of a Yankee hat. Two, actually.
CDD: Do you have a NY diehard team then, in another sport?
CW: I’m gonna be totally honest, not really. There’s the Knicks but they can be a huge letdown? Once Derrick Rose left… before Russell Westbrook there was Derrick Rose. He was my top player. After he got traded, I had to give up for a while (laughs)! But I still go to the games sometimes.
CDD: Okay, last one… who have your greatest influences been in life?
CW: I want to give thanks to my grandmother who passed away in August 2012. If she was still here, she’d be very proud of me. She didn’t get a chance to see me excel the way that I have, but her passing has been a gamechanger for me…it’s made me change the person I am for the better, what I do certain things for, the way I go about life, the way I play, and how I play is because of her. I give it to her and my mother. My mother and I are very close and I’ve seen how much she’s done for me. My grandmother and mother are the soul for me and the reasons why I am the way I am. I give thanks to them.
Chris DiSano, is an Atlantic 10 analyst and writer. He has served as the host of A-10 Live! at Men’s Basketball Media Day and founded the former College Chalktalk. DiSano, who was named NBC Sports top Atlantic 10 basketball follow on Twitter for five straight years, can be found on Twitter at @CDiSano44