From PTC to the Emerald Isle: Williams lives out hoop dreams

After four years at Samford University, Cassidy Williams wasn’t done with basketball, and basketball wasn’t done with her either. Though the season was cut short, the McIntosh hoops alum lived out her dream playing professional ball in Ireland this year. 

Williams capped off her McIntosh career as one of the most decorated Chiefs ever with 1,689 points, the second most all-time by a Lady Chief. Her senior year was sensational as she averaged 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists, and 1.8 steals a game to earn Region Player of the Year and All-State First Team accolades. 

Her sharpshooting talents caught the eye of Samford University, and Williams signed to play for the Bulldogs in Homewood, AL. She carved out a role as a 3-point specialist, hitting on 43 percent of her shots from long range as a senior. Williams etched her name into the school’s record books on February 2, 2019 when she scorched Wofford for 26 points with a school-record eight 3-pointers. 

Williams had dreamed about playing pro ball one day ever since she focused on basketball back in the sixth grade. 

“After my senior year at Samford my game was peaking, and I just didn’t feel done. I couldn’t stop playing now, I’m just getting to the good part,” said Williams. “I just wanted to see how much better can I get. I’ve always wanted to do it, and I can’t believe I’m actually doing it.”

Watching their daughter play professionally has been thrilling for her parents. 

“The obvious answer is that it fills me with pride, but the pride doesn’t come from what she had achieved as much as it comes from what she has overcome to get there,” said her mother, Cathy. “Throughout her basketball career she has been through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, plus encountered many obstacles. What I am most proud of is that in a world where too many people quit when faced with constant adversity, she preserved undeterred in the pursuit of her dream to play overseas. 

“When I sit in the stands and watch her play in Ireland, I see a girl whose strength and determination is inspiring, and that fills me with more pride than any points that she has ever scored.”

Her dad, Michael, could tell pretty early on that Cassidy would be a good player. In middle school, she was fundamentally sound and a student of the game with a strong work ethic. In 10th grade, she started to find her edge.

“She became stubborn, stubborn from the standpoint that she did not like to be shown up,” he said. “She did not like to fail. She started to generate her own fuel to prove people wrong.”

He really knew she was on to something when she tried out for the national U17 team ahead of the World Championships in the Czech Republic before her senior year at McIntosh. From a pool of 150 invitees, she made it into the final 50. 

“It was a murderous three days of drills and competing,” he said. “Some kids who signed with (elite) schools went home before Cassidy. I look back on that Top 50 roster today and every single player was on a full-ride D1 scholarship. At least six of them were drafted in the WNBA, many of them were in the Final Four, and countless numbers of them are playing in Europe now. When I saw her competing at that level, under such immense pressure and amongst such great talent, it was then I knew she was going to be a special player and different.”

Cassidy found her opportunity in Ireland’s Women’s Super League with the Marble City Hawks. She considered teams in Germany and Australia, but the fit was the most important factor. 

“I didn’t want to go to a team where I would be a role player again,” she said. “I wanted to go to a team that needed me and my skill set.”

McIntosh alum Cassidy Williams went on to play at Samford University before taking her talents to play professionally in Ireland this year.

It is a long way from Peachtree City to Kilkenny, Ireland, but Williams found her footing. 

“I remember being on the plane thinking ‘Oh my God, what am I doing? I don’t even know what my coach looks like,’” she said. 

It took a couple weeks to settle in, but she fell in love with Ireland. It’s often rainy and cloudy, and the sun sets early, but her schedule allowed her plenty of time to explore. In college, her schedule was set down to the hour by her coaches, but as a pro she was responsible for her own time. Her family got to visit several times, so they all got to know her new home, too. 

She paced the Hawks with a team-high 14 points a night, along with 5 rebounds, 2 steals, and 2 assists in 37 minutes per game. 

“My experience playing professionally in Ireland was incredible and absolutely unforgettable. Not only did I get to play at the highest, most physical level basketball has to offer in Ireland, but I got to showcase the end product of years and years of hard work at all of the stages I played in the United States,” she said. “My experience was what it was, too, because I found the perfect fit for me. My teammates and my coaches are the most supportive, genuine, kind, and welcoming people I’ve ever met. They are also quite the group of competitors, as well. I’m a better person from knowing and being around them.”

Unfortunately, the season came to an early end as leagues around the world stopped due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Williams had to rush home to Georgia with her fiancé, who was visiting her at the time. 

“We were supposed to have one more game which got cancelled because of the coronavirus. We had planned to have a big team get together to say goodbye, spend St. Patrick’s day in Dublin, and come home the next day. Those plans were out the window when the coronavirus was becoming much more widespread, and international travel was being affected,” she said. “I did get one last practice session with the team to say goodbye. It was so hard to part ways with them because I really do not know when we will cross paths again.”

While she was an ocean away from her family, her Marble City team became her family. She treasures them all, and they returned the love. The Hawks retired her number 31, and her teammates threw her a bachelorette party for her impending nuptials. 

Her favorite moment playing in Ireland came away from the court, after a tough road loss nearing the end of the season and with her wedding approaching. 

“At the end of my coach’s post-game speech, he grabbed his phone, started playing wedding music, and threw some white shorts on my head. He said, ‘I’m not going to be able to be there on your wedding day, but I’m going to walk you down the aisle, right here, right now,’” Williams remembers. “It still shocks me to this day how all of my coaches and teammates embraced me as their own in a matter of months.”

Williams quickly bonded with her team in Ireland, and her Marble City teammates even threw a bachelor party to celebrate her upcoming wedding.

She loves the passion for the game in Ireland. The game is physical, and the crowds are raucous. 

“Our home gym is pretty small, but it gets completely packed out for games. I’ve had more fans in the stands in Ireland than in college. They’re very rowdy,” she said. “I’ve never felt such energy and passion for a game.”

The thunderous crowds take her back to her time at McIntosh, particularly the Chiefs’ bitter rivalry with Starr’s Mill and their thrilling Battle of the Bubble showdowns. 

“The fan experience in Ireland relates to the Battle of the Bubble, but it doesn’t even compare. That rivalry just runs so deep,” she said. “Whenever I think about my favorite high school times, it’s always McIntosh-Starr’s Mill. There’s really nothing like it. I’ve never seen anything remotely similar.”

She treasures the bonds she built at McIntosh, especially with her coach, David Dowse. Even though Dowse has moved on to Lumpkin County High, they still work together to sharpen her game. 

“Before I left to go play overseas, over the summer I would go workout with him. He’ll unlock the gym for me and put me through workouts,” Williams said. “To this day, he is my favorite coach I’ve ever had. He’s very present in my life still to this day. He’s going to be a part of my life forever.”

Dowse never doubted that Williams could take basketball as far as she wanted. 

“She’s competitive. She wants to do it her way. She wants to go out the way she wants to go out, and she’s talented enough to do it,” said Dowse. “I think what allows her to do that at multiple levels is because she’s such a great teammate. She genuinely cared about her McIntosh teammates and her Samford teammates, and I think that her teammates in Ireland now would say the same thing, that she plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played, and she cares equally for her teammates as she does for herself, and probably more so.”

What lies ahead for Williams isn’t set in stone yet. She was considering heading to Australia to play over the summer, but basketballs have stopped bouncing all around the world. She’s thinking about training for an Iron Woman triathlon, and writing a book about her basketball journey has piqued her interest. She was set to marry her fiancé Austin Barnard, a Whitewater High grad and fellow Samford alum, on April 4, but the outbreak scuttled that. They have pushed the date back to August, but that could be in flux as well if Austin gets another NFL opportunity. 

“It’s hard to tell where we’re going to be. It’s very weird managing his professional career and my own because they’re so different,” Williams said. 

Longterm, she’s got her eye on maybe being a high school athletic director or getting involved in college athletics, and she thinks she’ll coach youth teams, too. She found joy in coaching while in Ireland.

“If you had asked me in college if I wanted to pursue coaching, I would’ve said no way,” she said. “Whenever I coached an under-13 boys team here, it sparked something for me that I’d never considered before. They’re a really fun group.”

Whatever the future holds, she’s appreciating the many roads basketball has taken her down. 

“It’s taken me a lot of cool places,” she said. “It’s been quite the ride so far.”