Ashley Williams back in Indiana again

Ashley Williams knew the job was available before it was officially open.

Indiana assistant coach Janese Banks-Constantine was headed to Alabama, where her husband had joined the Crimson Tide strength and conditioning staff, leaving a vacancy on the IU women’s basketball bench.

Williams, who was a graduate assistant for the Hoosiers from 2017-2019, got a heads up from her friend and former colleague and made the decision to apply despite having just completed her first year as a D-I assistant at Furman.

“JB is a good friend of mine and a great mentor, taught me a lot in my two years as a GA, so we’re pretty close,” Williams said. “We talk pretty often, so I kind of knew. She had told me before it was public, so it was definitely in the back of my mind, but at the same time, I was realistic — I’ve only been away one year, I’ve only had one year of assistant coaching experience. But to say I wasn’t hopeful, that would not be true.”

That short resume wasn’t held against her and the hopefulness was rewarded in late June when Indiana head coach Teri Moren hired Williams as Indiana’s third assistant coach, joining associate head coaches Rhet Wierzba and Glenn Box.

“I guess they just couldn’t get rid of me,” Williams said with a big smile during a Zoom interview with The Herald-Times. “… I was really invested, I was all in those two years (as a graduate assistant). My values aligned really well with the culture that Coach Moren has established here as far as just work is the bottom line. If you don’t do the work, you won’t reap the benefits. That was kind of my motto as a player, not to be outworked, so I think it’s as simple as that, it all aligned really well with me.

“(Coach Moren) saw it, I saw it too, and that’s why I’m back.”

How Williams wound up at Indiana in the first place is a story that begins in her hometown of Cary, North Carolina.

Growing up on Tobacco Road, Williams was a self-described “tomboy,” playing any and every sport. But she ultimately followed in the footsteps of her father in latching on to basketball.

“My dad was the biggest one who got me into basketball,” Williams said. “That was definitely our primary sport. It was the one he had played and invested a lot of time in.”

She was also Wolfpack born and bred. Both parents attended nearby North Carolina State, and Williams grew up watching both men’s and women’s basketball games. One of her favorite men’s players was Archie Miller, who now has an office on the opposite side of Cook Hall from her, while on the women’s side she attended Kay Yow basketball camps, hosted by the legendary N.C. State coach who died of cancer in 2009.

Williams made a dream come true when she joined the N.C. State team in 2013 as a walk-on under then first-year coach Wes Moore.

“It was special — four years I will never forget,” she said. “I started as a walk-on, so I went into it with the understanding that I might not play a lot, I might not ever have a big role as far as contributing in games and I was OK with that. I grew up an N.C. State fan, so I just wanted to be a part of it, do what I could.”

And that meant Williams wasn’t just content to be on the team. Over her first two seasons, she appeared in 54 games, averaging 12 minutes per contest. But in her final two seasons, Williams started 61 of the 63 games in which she appeared while averaging 31.5 minutes per game.

“Coming in as a walk-on, I knew I had to outwork people,” she said. “I knew I had to show up with a great attitude and energy every day. It was easy, because I loved practice. That was when I got to get the ball a lot. It was just taking pride in being on the scout team my freshman year. In doing those things, I earned the respect of my teammates and started to earn some playing time.

“Being a walk-on, I had to embrace that and definitely take any advantage I could get — in film, in scout, in just studying the game and taking what my coaches were saying and doing it to the best of my ability.”

Williams shot 41 percent from 3 as a senior, averaging a career-best 7.8 points per game while also leading the team in charges taken (16). She left N.C. State fourth in program history in 3-point percentage (.376) and sixth in made 3s (168), not to mention being the ACC’s Kay Yow Scholar-Athlete of the Year in 2016, a three-time member of the ACC All-Academic Team and earning CoSIDA Academic All-District honors en route to a 3.9 GPA and a degree in industrial engineering. But coaching was calling.

“Going into college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do,” Williams said. “I knew N.C. State was a good engineering school. My dad was an engineer, got his degree at N.C. State, so I just decided to go with it. I’d always been pretty good at math, so I did that. I kind of knew I didn’t really want to do it, but I figured I could still do business with an industrial engineering degree, figured I could find something.

“But probably around my sophomore year, I really thought I could get into coaching, just finding myself having conversations with my coaches at State and staying late to talk basketball and strategize and talk about the previous game. I loved doing that, and as time went on, I figured coaching could be what I’d be passionate about.”

Williams was entered in the So You Want To Be A Coach program at the 2017 Final Four and began networking with the help of Wolfpack assistant coach Gene Hill, who was on staff at Georgia Tech with Moren and was also at Butler in the early 2000s when Moren at the University of Indianapolis.

With that connection aiding the process, Williams applied for the vacant GA spot in Bloomington and joined the Hoosiers that summer.

“I had impeccable timing. I walked in, and the first thing we did was go to Italy,” she said. “Obviously we had a pretty good team then, too, with Tyra Buss and Amanda Cahill, two very talented players that were seniors that year and have been instrumental in what Coach Moren wanted to do here.”

Indiana would go on to win the WNIT title in 2017-18.

“It was a good time for me to show up,” Williams said.

Her second year at Indiana was just as good, with transfers Ali Patberg and Brenna Wise eligible after sitting out a year, as the Hoosiers made it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament with plenty of promise for the future.

“It was a great two years,” Williams said. “Things just aligned really well as far as where the program was headed and with the players they had recruited to bring in. It all just went together really well.”

But after two years as a grad assistant, it was time for Williams to spread her wings, landing not far from home in Greenville, S.C., where she took notes from 10th-year head coach Jackie Carson during a 19-12 campaign for the SoCon’s Paladins.

“It’s always good to be around a different head coach,” Williams said. “For me, I’ve only been around three but all three were very different. So it’s cool to keep learning different ways to do things, especially when I’m learning from three head coaches who have all been very successful, so that was great for me. I got to do assistant coaching responsibilities, which was a step up from a graduate assistant. A lot less personnel on staff at a school like Furman, so I got my hands dirty in a lot of different areas.”

But then Banks-Constantine called with an opportunity Williams might not have expected so soon and a fit that Williams couldn’t expect to be better, ultimately resulting in a seven-and-a-half hour drive back north.

“The dynamic the assistants and Coach Moren all have, the relationships and how all three would work off of each other,” Williams said. “As a GA, I thought I fit in really well with them. With Rhet and Box still here, those were two I worked very closely with, so I think just personality-wise and our strengths and weaknesses, we kind of complement each other pretty well.

“Now replacing (Janese), I wouldn’t say we’re exactly the same but definitely there were a lot of things she did that I took from. She’s got great energy, is great in recruiting as far as how she handles on-campus visits and all that stuff. There’s definitely a lot of things I’ve taken from her, but the biggest thing is just how well the staff goes together.”