Saints' Williamson leads strong hoops team, eyes med school

Unlike the majority of college athletes, Katie Williamson knows the exact day her senior basketball season ends, Feb. 25 vs. Armstrong Atlantic.

The North Georgia point guard and North Gwinnett grad even knew before the season.

Her school's athletic program, which competed against NAIA competition in Williamson's first three seasons, joined the Peach Belt Conference for the 2005-2006 school year, the first step in joining the NCAA at the Division II level. The downside of the switch is North Georgia must go through a four-year period (it can apply for a waiver after two) where it can't compete in postseason tournaments.

So there's no Peach Belt or NCAA tourney this season for the Saints.

"In a way it's disappointing (not have any postseason tourneys)," said Williamson, whose team went to a Hawaii tournament to make up for lack of a postseason. "In the three years I've been here, I've got three (conference championship) rings. North Georgia has four in a row. Our team just wants to win. We hate losing. So whether we have postseason or not, we're playing to win. And we've still got the regular season (conference) title to play for."

North Georgia was an NAIA power in women's basketball, reaching the Sweet 16 twice and the Elite Eight once the past three seasons at nationals. Another tourney run isn't possible this year, so the players are focused on the positives of taking the program up to Division II.

So far the jump has been smooth. The Saints are 10-3 overall and 6-0 in their new conference. As she has been for three seasons, Williamson has been a key component in the strong start.

"Katie's meant the world (to our success)," North Georgia women's coach Buffie Burson said. "She's a four-year starter, a leader and just a great person overall. She's known for her 3-pointers, but this year she's done a great job of attacking the basket and getting to the free-throw line. That's great because she shoots them so well."

So well for Williamson is 37 of 41, or 90.2 percent. She shot 88.9, 85.6 and 85.6 percent from the line the previous three seasons, ranking third, fourth and third in the nation among NAIA players.

But her game is more than free throws. She leads North Georgia in scoring (14.2 per game) and assists (3.5), and also averages 3.4 rebounds. She has made 50.9 percent of her field goals and 43.3 percent of her 3-pointers (29 of 67). She also plays a team-high 30.2 minutes per game.

"The season's going well," said Williamson, a second-team NAIA All-American as a junior. "We have a good team this year. We're really balanced. Any night it could be any one of us leading the way."

Willamson has struck a pretty good balance herself between athletics and academics. She still has a perfect 4.0 GPA as she prepares for a spring graduation in biology/pre-medicine.

She was accepted as an early entry applicant to medical school at the Medical College of Georgia in Augusta. After attending a summer camp last year for children with cancer, she said she's leaning toward a career in pediatric oncology.

"(Pediatric oncology) has a lot of ups and downs," Williamson said. "You see things that tug at your heart and also see good things when kids recover."

North Georgia also has another Gwinnett grad, junior post Jenica Johnson. Johnson, a reserve, has played in every game and averages 6.0 points and 3.0 rebounds.

Witherspoon earns first start vs. UNC

Former Berkmar standout Wynton Witherspoon, a sophomore on Virginia Tech's men's basketball team, made his first career start on Tuesday in a 64-61 loss to defending national champion North Carolina. The 6-foot-7 wing appeared headed for a medical redshirt but a nagging foot injury has healed enough to allow him to play.

Witherspoon fared well is starting debut with a team-high 17 points, three rebounds and three steals. He scored a career-high 19 the previous week against Florida State.

Morgan scores career-high in win

Buford grad Andre Morgan, a true freshman on the Kennesaw State men's basketball team, scored a career-high 30 points on Monday in his team's 81-77 win over Campbell. He made 13 of 16 free throws in the victory.

Morgan averages 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds.

Parker posts second straight double-double

Western Carolina's April Parker, a true freshman from Shiloh, posted her second straight double-double last weekend in a loss to Davidson. She scored a career-high 16 points and added a career-best 12 rebounds.

Prior to that game, she had 13 points and 10 rebounds vs. Elon.

Woods shines at Erskine

Collins Hill grad Melissa Woods leads the Erskine College (S.C.) women's basketball team in scoring (12.9 per game) and assists (5.9). She ranks 23rd nationally among Division II players in assists per game and is 32nd in 3-pointers per game.

The senior guard had 17 points and seven rebounds last week in a 66-64 win over Limestone College. She also hit two game-winning free throws with 2.5 seconds left in that victory.

Gwinnett Grads is a column that runs on Saturdays spotlighting the achievements of past Gwinnett standouts. Coaches and parents are urged to send suggestions via e-mail to will.hammock@gwinnettdailypost.com or via fax to 770-339-8081.