Seattle Storm forward Gabby Williams said that while she managed to rejoin the WNBA midseason this year despite prioritization restrictions, she does not have confidence she’ll be able to play both in the WNBA and overseas in future seasons.
“I still think the prioritization thing is ridiculous. I’m sorry, I’ll say it. Like literally, I’m only here because I got concussed,” Williams told reporters Wednesday in her first appearance since returning to the Storm. “Something has to give. France needs to have shorter seasons, or the WNBA needs to [allow players] to make money and do both. And no, this doesn’t give me any hope that I can do both.”
Williams, a two-time national champion at UConn and a 2018 WNBA draft lottery pick, said she considered appearing in the WNBA in 2023 “out of question” as she competed overseas with her French club ASVEL. The French league playoffs would not end until after the WNBA’s regular-season start date, and ASVEL was strongly favored to advance to the finals.
Under the WNBA’s new prioritization rules, which are part of its 2020 CBA, Williams — a restricted free agent at the time — needed to complete any offseason play before the WNBA’s opening day, or else she would be considered ineligible. A large swath of WNBA players compete overseas during the league’s offseason to supplement their incomes and keep their games at a high level.
A longtime member of the French senior national team, Williams was also planning to play in the EuroBasket tournament in June with Les Bleues; national team obligations, however, are exceptions to the WNBA’s prioritization restrictions.
Williams would not have been able to appear in the WNBA this season had it not been for a concussion she suffered during the French league semifinals, which prompted her to suspend her contract with ASVEL before the WNBA’s May 19 deadline.
Recovery from the head injury was no small feat, though. Ascribing it to her own stubbornness, Williams initially tried to play despite having symptoms, which only made her feel worse. She saw a specialist, who shut her down for three weeks to, in her words, “get my brain together.”
Williams spent that time recovering in Lyon, and once she started feeling better was able to relocate to New York, where she eased her way back into basketball activities with her trainer while ensuring she remained symptom-free. That’s when she started to eye her WNBA return.
“As I started to feel better, the competitiveness to come back started to come back,” Williams said. “Because at first I was like, ‘I don’t want to even think about basketball for a while.’ Once I started getting back into shape and everything and feeling good, I was just like, ‘all right, I miss my girls. I miss my team, I miss Seattle,’ so that kind of was the motivation to get back.”
Without Williams, ASVEL went on to win the French league championship, while France finished in third place at EuroBasket.
The concussion, recovery and missing out on so much meaningful basketball were difficult for Williams, but the silver lining was that it gave her the opportunity to play in the WNBA this summer. In her eyes, Williams said, “everything happens for a reason.”
“I just feel so happy to be back,” she said. “Of course I was really, really disappointed missing the [French league] final, but seeing that the girls were able to do it and finish it is obviously a relief. I’m just happy we won. … Mentally it was really, really, really hard knowing that I was going to be missing Euros, but just being back and back in this environment. … I just couldn’t be happier.”
The Storm announced her signing on a rest-of-season-contract on Monday.
In her first season with the Storm following a trade from the Los Angeles Sparks, Williams started all 36 games for Seattle in 2022, averaging 7.5 points, 5.0 rebounds and 3.1 assists and earned second-team WNBA all-defense honors. While Williams made the trip to Connecticut, the Storm already ruled her out due to “return to play” protocols ahead of their Thursday matchup against the Connecticut Sun.
Amid a rebuild following the departure of Breanna Stewart for New York and the retirement of Sue Bird, the Storm are 4-12 and in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since 2015. Williams brings versatility, athleticism, defense and high-energy play to Seattle, not to mention a veteran presence for a team featuring four rookies and six players with at most three years of experience.
She said she hopes she can help get the storied franchise back on track.
“I see that there’s so many games that could have been won,” Williams said. “I feel like this team has all pieces. I’ve been here for one practice and the energy has been great, the atmosphere has been great and energy has been great. The rookies have good energy, the newcomers, so I’m just happy to be part of that, just bring my energy, too.”
Storm’s Gabby Williams happy to return, but rips prioritization rule