Peyton Williams hadn’t had to try out for a team since high school. She didn’t have that luxury competing against 35 of the best women’s basketball players in the world.
But vying for a spot on the United States’ team for the Pan American Games earlier this month, Williams said she “didn’t even think about” her chances of making the 12-player roster.
“I just played my hardest,” said Williams, a rising senior on Kansas State’s women’s basketball team.
Williams said it didn’t hit her that she was competing to be on Team USA until she was getting ready to try out.
“I didn’t really understand it ‘til I put on the jersey that said ‘USA,’” Williams said. “And I then was like, ‘Oh, well this is really cool.’ Then you walk into the gym and ‘USA’ is everywhere.”
Although Williams said she felt she played well during the tryout sessions, it still was an “utter shock” to her when she found out she actually made the team.
“I thought I played well and I thought I was a good teammate, but would that be enough against some of the like really talented girls?” Williams said. “Literally, I had no idea.”
Throughout Williams’ time in Colorado, K-State head coach Jeff Mittie and assistant Chris Carr checked on her periodically. Williams said that Carr believed her spot on the team was a done deal.
“Coach Carr was like, ‘You are going to make the team,’” Williams said. “Like, he was so confident. He said, ‘Bring me back a USA shirt.’”
Mittie said he could tell by his text conversations with Williams that she was playing at a high level.
“Peyton hardly ever says great stuff about the way she plays, but she said, ‘I think I’m playing pretty well,’” Mittie said. “For her to say that I felt like, ‘Wow, she’s probably playing really well.”
Mittie said he felt as though Williams’ skillset is a good fit for the type of competition she’ll face at the Pan American Games, which will be held Aug. 6-10 in Lima, Peru.
“The international game is such a wide-open game, and her ability to shoot the ball and her ability to make shots is critical in the international game as you widen the lane and as you talk about the short shot clock and those type of things,” Mittie said of Williams, who led the Wildcats in both points (15.5) and rebounds (9.5) per game last season.
When the final roster was revealed Monday, the names of the players who made the cut were announced in alphabetical order, which left Williams waiting anxiously until the very end.
“They just kept listing off tall people and I’m like, ‘I’m probably not going to make it ‘cause they already made the team. They don’t really need that many people,’” Williams said. “And then it got to the very end and it was like, ‘Peyton Williams.’ And then that’s it. I was like, ‘Oh my gosh.’”
Other than making the team, Williams said her favorite part about her time in Colorado was befriending players who she’s battled against in the Big 12. It’s a list that included Texas Tech’s Brittany Brewer, Oklahoma State’s Vivian Gray and the Texas duo of Joyner Holmes and Sug Sutton.
“I think it was really cool meeting the other players from the Big 12 and seeing them as teammates and less as people we hate for no apparent reason other than that they’re from Texas, OSU, or something like that,” Williams said. “So, it was fun meeting those girls, and they’re some really quality women.”
Simply making the team, Mittie said, was an impressive feat.
“One of 12, only second time in school history, this is a big accomplishment,” Mittie said. “This is an All-American-type team. This is a team with first-round draft picks. This is a very talented team.”
Williams said she is excited to don the red, white and blue, as well as serve as an ambassador of sorts for northeast Kansas on the world stage.
“To represent Kansas State and the Midwest and Kansas is awesome,” she said. “I mean to bring attention to an area where people, you know, fly over.”