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All Heart: A journey from a Memphis women's basketball player to the coaching staff

A heart condition ended Laynce Williams' playing career, but it couldn't keep her away from the Tigers, or her twin sister

MEMPHIS, Tenn β€” At the heart of what bonds the Williams sisters is basketball.

"That was one of our main centers for how our relationship evolved over the years," Lanyce Williams said. She and her twin sister played together at Arlington High School, budding into Div. I recruits. So it was only natural that the play together in college. In August of 2018, they both announced their commitment to the Memphis Tigers.

"It was always a package deal," Lanetta said.

"If it ain't broke, don't fix it," Lanyce added. "So we thought why not stay together? It's the main thing we were striving for. The main thing was we sign somewhere, we got the school we both wanted. Then the next step was to get on the floor together."

But the twin tandem would only share a court three times, as Lanyce battled persistent knee injuries before a new hurdle emerged.

"I had a heat exhaustion episode," Lanyce said. "After that, things just went downhill from there."

She was diagnosed with a heart condition. Two years and two heart surgeries later, Lanyce's journey back to the court was paved with setbacks and frustration.

"My whole junior year it was nothing but medication and trying to get acclimated and training and training," she said. "I'm on a treadmill 20 minutes before practice trying to get my heart going in the proper rhythm and stuff. It was a lot." 

"It was really tough for me because I couldn't help her," Lanetta said. "I didn't know what to do because normally I try to fix it and say 'Oh, it's okay.' I couldn't do anything about it and it was hard for me to watch her struggle."

It was hard for then first-year head coach Katrina Merriweather as well. So she came up with a plan ahead of Lanyce and Lanetta's senior year.

"I'm like 'Hey, I know you want to play, but I don't know how much fun it is to play when you can't be who you were,'" Merriweather began.

"She was like look, I know you want to coach. How about we talk about you getting a new position where you become an undergraduate assistant coach rather than trying and suffering," Lanyce recalled about the moment this new opportunity was presented. "I can't lie, I started crying. It was a dream come true. I still get to be a part of the team, I still get to be with my sister. And then I'm learning from some of the greatest coaches in the nation. So I could ask for anything better."

"The most important part for me was to make sure she knew, her parents knew, Lanetta knew that it had nothing to do with Lanetta," Merriweather stressed. "If Lanetta had decided to go into the portal and transfer, Lanyce could have stayed. It was important to me that she understood that I valued who she is as a young woman and who she is going to grow into and all the potential I see in her in so many different areas. 

While her return to the court didn't go as planned, Lanyce said she ended up exactly where she wanted to be.

"Some people might say, I know you wish it could have been different. In all honesty, I don't," She said. "Even with all the injuries, the blood, sweat and tears. I don't wish anything to be different. And I'm so thankful for my family, for Lanetta, and the coaching staff both past and present. I'm forever in their debt, long story short. I'm thankful, truly."

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