Norfolk welcomes home Elizabeth Williams and Duke Blue Devils

March 30, 2013 - 5:14pm
Elizabeth Williams let the Duke Blue Devils with 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. (Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography)

Elizabeth Williams let the Duke Blue Devils with 15.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. (Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography)

NORFOLK, Va. – Elizabeth Williams’ McDonald’s All-American uniform never looked so baggy.

On the 5-foot-6 Jenna Frush, the jersey hung like a queen-size bed sheet, the brilliant red shorts hung down to her ankles, and the No. 15 jersey resembled a nightgown.

It was just one of the treasures the Duke Blue Devils found while rummaging through their sophomore teammate’s bedroom, all thanks to the NCAA Tournament coming to Williams’ hometown.

The Blue Devils promise to be all business on Sunday, when they battle Nebraska in a Norfolk Regional Sweet 16 matchup at Old Dominion University’s Constant Center. Less than 48 hours before tipoff, though, they were laughing, relaxing and chilling in the Virginia Beach home of one of the their own.

“I’m a walk-on, so this is pretty cool,” said Frush, the one flanked in the red uniform to the giggles of her teammates.

Durham-born Frush never dreamed she’d be standing in Williams’ foyer, one game away from the Elite Eight. In fact, who would have dreamed that Duke would be vying for a Final Four spot a mere 13 miles from the Cypress Point neighborhood where Williams grew up?

Not Blue Devils coach Joanne P. McCallie, who said she struggled to find a regular-season opponent near Williams’ home.

“This is a blessing,” McCallie said.

Certainly not Alex and Margaret Williams, Elizabeth’s parents, who make every 210-mile drive to Durham to see their daughter play.

“Except when I’m on call,” said Alex Williams, a gastroenterologist. “Actually I’m on call this weekend, but I switched with someone.”

“I usually don’t get back until after 1 a.m.,” sighed Margaret Williams, who attends all home games and makes most road trips, too.

Elizabeth Williams and her Duke teammates almost didn’t get here, either, after a scare by Oklahoma State in the subregional final.

“Elizabeth needs to start scoring,” Margaret Williams lamented to herself. “I knew they couldn’t do it by just relying on the outside shot.”

The Blue Devils trailed the Cowgirls by 13 before prevailing 68-59.

The final score didn’t just thrill Duke, it delighted all of Williams’ neighbors, whose affinity is Duke blue and white. When the team bus pulled into the tree-lined beach neighborhood, it was greeted by “Go Duke” signs en route to the Williams home, where blue ribbons hung around pink flamingos necks on the lawn and the signs plastered the garage door, each with a player and her number.

Inside a lavish spread of shrimp, sandwiches, fresh fruit – a smorgasbord big enough to feed all four teams in the Norfolk Region.

The folks here remember Williams from the days when she was a tall trombone player with a basketball hoop in her driveway.

“I never saw her out there,” said neighbor Carmeline Sauls, who everybody calls Toots. “I told my son he could practice when he saw her out there practicing but we never saw her.”

That’s because Williams – who plans to follow her parents into medicine - put academics first, not that her basketball suffered. National Player of the Year awards, state championship medals and of course, that McDonald’s All-American are part of a collection of accolades that fills curio cabinets and wall space throughout the two-story home.

#1 Elizabeth Williams blocks a shot against Presbyterian University. (Jon Gardiner/Duke Photography)

Everybody’s a fan, including Sauls’ 82-year-old mother, who never cared a lick about sports but adores Williams.  She was too ill to attend the Friday gathering, but the team signed a ball for Toots to take home.

“Anybody want cake?” asked Williams, cutting into  the orange cursive design that read, “Welcome home Elizabeth & Teammates. Go Duke!!”

Williams sliced the first piece and kept on cutting until every Blue Devil and neighbor had a piece. Such thoughtfulness was familiar to Sauls, who after decorating the neighborhood after the ACC Tournament, was stunned to see Williams at her door one morning during spring break with a personal thanks.

“Kids don’t usually get up that early,” she said. “She even wrote us a thank you note. She’s very, very special. It gives me goose bumps.”

After cake, it was time to head to the team hotel. Signing a team poster on their way out the door, the Blue Devils headed for the bus to begin focusing on the real task at hand.

“It’s exciting, definitely, for all the people who supported me in my high school days to get to see me play,” Williams said. “But at the same time, it’s a business trip. We’re here to take care of business and win these next two games.”

Duke’s Virginia Beach fan club already has the Blue Devils in the Elite Eight for the fourth straight year. In fact, they’re way ahead of the game.

Said Sauls, “Wait to you see what we do when she’s pro.”