As a Lady Vol basketball player, Kamiko Williams had as much personality as she did talent, and she is returning to the University of Tennessee to be an academic coach for the general student body.
The official title is professional academic coach at the Academic Success Center, and Williams knows if Pat Summitt were still here, she would be both thrilled and tickled.
Williams played for Summitt from 2009-13 – she was one of the players on Summitt’s last team in 2011-12 and Holly Warlick’s first team in 2012-13 – logged minutes in 128 games for Tennessee and won six SEC titles with three in the regular season and three in the SEC tourney. After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and criminal justice, she played professional basketball in the WNBA after being drafted in the first round by the New York Liberty.
After a second serious knee injury in 2015, Williams turned to coaching and started her career at the University of New Haven in West Haven, Connecticut, where she assisted in recruiting, academics, strength and conditioning, community outreach, basketball camps and fundraising. That was followed by assistant coach and recruiting coordinator positions at Monmouth University in West Long Branch, New Jersey; Nicholls State in Thibodaux, Louisiana; and Weber State in Ogden, Utah.
The career of her father, U.S. Army Master Sgt. Vincent Williams, took her mother, Angelita Williams, and her brother, Keynante, across the globe when she was a child, so traveling across the United States as a coach didn’t phase her. Williams started high school in Germany and finished it in Clarksville, Tennessee, when her father was stationed at Fort Campbell. That led to her becoming a Lady Vol, and Knoxville became what always felt like home.
“Familiarity, number one, and then I just really love everything about it,” Williams said in an interview with Knox TN Today. “Connecticut, loved it, but it was too cold. Monmouth, loved it, but I’m not a beach person. Louisiana, it was different. You just really have to love Louisiana. Utah was gorgeous, but it’s so far from home.
“Tennessee is close to my parents. You have all four seasons, but it’s nothing too crazy. It’s not scorching hot. It’s not deathly cold. The people obviously are great. There’s a lot of trees, and I like the mountains.”
When the 2022-23 season ended and Weber State and the head coach parted ways, Williams took a job in Utah as an elementary school librarian – a position she loved – and she decided to explore careers outside of coaching. For an assistant coach in the trenches, the job security is low and the pay, especially at the smaller schools, isn’t a primary motivation.
“I really enjoyed the responsibilities I had as an assistant,” said Williams, which in addition to coaching also included academic oversight, budgeting and admissions coordination.
Wanting to get back to East Tennessee, Williams job hunted and saw an opening for an admissions counselor at Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate. The director of admissions who hired her turned out to be Matt Acton, a former LMU assistant basketball coach who had worked Summitt’s summer camps and already knew Williams.
She worked at LMU before learning about academic coach positions from her network of college and Tennessee connections. Williams googled it, and her phone used her location to open a position at Tennessee.
“I got the job, and I was the most excited person in the world,” said Williams, whose first day will be Oct. 30.
While Williams can’t say that her coaching career is finished, it’s not something on her radar right now.
“I don’t necessarily rule it out,” Williams said. “I understand the people part of it and why Pat was real particular with who she had and why she had them. It would have be the right person and the right situation.”
As a student-athlete at Tennessee, her primary goal was basketball, and anytime her focus lapsed at practice, Williams heard Summitt shouting her first name. When Williams got sideways with Summitt off the court, it was usually because she missed a class or was late. After an arrival home from a road trip in the wee hours and then an early morning class, Williams sometimes dozed at her desk. That got back to Summitt, too.
As a coach, she counseled her players not to follow that path. Since Williams worked at smaller universities, she realized the athletes didn’t have the abundance of resources that she had at Tennessee. She became a mentor and life coach, too. She also made sure she had furry companions for herself as dogs and cats are a coach’s best friends.
As a player, Williams had a perpetual smile and a free spirit. It didn’t always align with Summitt’s coaching personality, but after Williams tore her ACL over the summer and made it back on the court the following January of her junior year, she earned her head coach’s respect with her work ethic in rehab and dedication. Still, Williams would not have been the one Summitt said was most likely to become a coach.
“I don’t think she would be as surprised with the coaching part only because I think a lot of times she used to get on me because I get it, I just acted like I didn’t get it or something,” Williams said. “The academic part, she probably would chuckle and her eyes, she would be looking around, ‘Like, wait a minute.’
“I started to understand everything that they got on me about. Being a coach and then having student-athletes that literally were just like me, it’s like, ‘Hey, this doesn’t work. I know. It doesn’t work. I tried it.’ Invest in yourself when it comes to the education part.”
What Williams, who is now working on a master’s degree, misses the most about her time at Tennessee is her teammates. She still keeps up with several of them.
“We were actually just talking about how we just really missed the camaraderie,” Williams said. “It didn’t matter what we were going through. Good day. bad day. Practice was easy. Practice was too hard. We felt we were going to make it. We felt like we were on top of the world. We always found something to laugh about.”
Maria M. Cornelius, a writer/editor at MoxCar Marketing + Communications since 2013, started her journalism career at the Knoxville News Sentinel and began writing about the Lady Vols in 1998. In 2016, she published her first book, “The Final Season: The Perseverance of Pat Summitt,” through The University of Tennessee Press.