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Jennifer Lynne Williams Is Fueling the USA Basketball Foundation for a Win

The former Alabama State AD is focused on USA Basketball’s reach around the youth game and strengthening the bond with HBCUs.
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Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are putting the spotlight on the diverse journeys of Black women across sports—from the veteran athletes, to up-and-coming stars, coaches, executives and more—in the series, Elle-evate: 100 Influential Black Women in Sports.


Jennifer Lynne Williams always wanted to be in the Olympics. She jokingly said that becoming the Chief Development Officer of the USA Basketball Foundation (USABF) was the closest that she would come to that dream. And she’s OK with that, because now her passion has shifted. Her heart is set on championing women, empowering youth and promoting social responsibility.

Many of the USABF skill camps and basketball clinics held annually were discontinued or shut down due to the pandemic. While the world yo-yos between quarantine and normalcy, the USABF is focused on when life is back in full swing. Those in the organization understand the importance of youth sports and how being involved in an activity is excellent for mental health. And while Williams is looking forward to shifting from virtual to in-person activities as soon as possible, she continues to advance the USABF mission.

Focusing on supporting USA basketball, fundraising, and making people more aware of programming is front and center. “That's going to help drive and assist me with raising those funds and then implementing new programming for those underserved populations and urban areas where people may not get a chance to play,” says Williams, who was appointed in July 2021.

Strengthening the bond between USABF and HBCUs is another goal for Williams. The USABF was created in 2019—right before the COVID-19 pandemic hit—with a mission to support USA basketball. Williams says that when people think of USA basketball, they tend to connect it with the Olympic team or WNBA and NBA stars. Many people don’t know about the organization’s work around the youth game.

“We organize and execute tons of camps and clinics across the country every year,” says Williams, a former athlete who attended a predominantly white institution and an HBCU. “We are constantly raising money to support our grassroots initiative, so that we can empower our youth. And now I'm really looking at how we can include the students and coaches at HBCUs and Hispanic-serving institutions and give them an opportunity to benefit from USA basketball.”

Extending the collegiate reach of the organization also will shed light on e-sports, which have become popular at HBCUs. “That has been my push, expanding the brand, continuing to tell the narrative, and then generating revenue,” says Williams, adding that when she goes to an HBCU she doesn't see a lot of HBCU players participating in USA basketball. Executing this mission will help drive and assist Williams with raising the much-needed funds to keep the program thriving.

“When I left television and came over to athletic administration, it was ultimately to be an athletic director,” Williams says. Originally wanting to be the next Oprah after earning a journalism degree from UNC, Williams achieved her new goal of being an AD by 40 when she was hired as the Alabama State AD in 2018 after holding the role as an interim AD for two years before that. The next transition was more organic. With a background in fundraising, moving to USABF was a natural next step. “I was seven months pregnant when a friend of mine who worked for another national governing body asked me to have a conversation with the CEO to recommend some people because I served on national-level development boards,” says Williams. Ultimately, they ended up being most impressed with Williams and she accepted the position.

Her relationship with basketball was free-flowing, too. Williams says she was tricked by her father into playing basketball. He told her that subliminally he was always prepping her to be a great basketball player because he would play little games with her to prepare her to be a great rebounder. And she was. “I started playing basketball in sixth grade and I was terrible,” Williams says. “My coach and my dad saw something in me, and I just decided to try to get better.” Eventually she became one of the best players in the state, and a four-year letterman and two-year captain in women’s basketball at UNC–Chapel Hill.

This type of self-determination coupled with “showing up, being present and asking questions” during networking opportunities, is part of Williams’s recipe for success. She says that you never know who’s watching, and when the challenging times crept up, she rose to that occasion, too. “People are going to try you, but don't ever dim your light for anybody,” says Williams, who credits her husband and family with being her inspiration. “Keep shining, as long as you're doing the greater good and what's in the best interest of your goals. There were times when people wouldn't talk to me because I'm a woman. They would talk to my deputy. My No. 2. They didn't believe I was the athletic director.”

Hard work and dedication laid the groundwork for her to flourish as a basketball player, broadcaster, athletic director and, now, a fundraiser. But her success is also rooted in “figuring it out.” She says that she often said to her athletes and coaches. “We don't have to have all the answers but be solution-oriented.”

“Hopefully the student-athletes knew how much we loved and cared for them,” says Williams, who won 43 championships and multiple academic awards during her tenure at Alabama State. “We tried to pour into them and make sure they graduated because that's the key, student first and then successful, contributing adults to society.”

Making sure that your values align with the institution’s mission is a must for Williams, and the reason why her connection with USAFB was inevitable. The position circled back to her. And she accepted it after she had her child; it felt like destiny. She was prepared and she recognized all the signs that it was the best choice.

“Their pillars aligned with my values. I'm big on advocacy for women, for underserved populations, and promoting social responsibility,” Williams says. “That was something I was talking to my student-athletes about all the time. How do we become better citizens? How do we help others? And, then empowering—not to sound cliche—the youth, our future. If we don't give them those pillars and the confidence to instill that in early age, they're not going to have it growing up. I just felt like it aligned with what I was trying to do. It wasn't the only job that had been presented to me, but I felt really comfortable and confident.”

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Bryna Jean-Marie is a contributor for Empower Onyx, a diverse multi-channel platform celebrating the stories and transformative power of sports for Black women and girls.