Mike Williams loves a challenge.

Williams, the first-year Michigan women’s basketball assistant coach, went from being the top assistant coach at Grand Valley State, which won the Division II National Championship in 2005-06, to a bottom-dwelling Michigan team that hasn’t recorded an above-.500 record since 2001-02.

In fact, in his last two years with Grand Valley State, the team won more games (54) than the Wolverines had in their last five (48).

“The bigger the mountain, the bigger the challenge,” Williams said.

The coach has been helping to lead this year’s expedition and deserves much of the credit. His work often gets overlooked, as praise for this year’s turnaround is usually given to Michigan coach Kevin Borseth.

Williams, who concentrates most on player development rather than recruitment, specifically focuses on strength and conditioning and fine-tuning fundamentals outside of practice.

“I get a chance to go and spend time with them one-on-one or one-on-two and really break things down,” Williams said.

Throughout the season, sophomore center Krista Phillips has drastically improved her post game. Her increased aggressiveness in the paint can be attributed in large part to the time she has put in with Williams.

Junior Ashley Jones also benefited from her extra work.

The forward struggled all season to make smart decisions on the court, a likely reason Jones played just 21 minutes on the season before the Feb. 17 game against Indiana. But against the Hoosiers, Jones dished out four assists in 26 minutes, a sign her time in the gym with Williams paid off.

Jones has played double-digit minutes in each game since.

“Whenever we need to work out he’s always available,” Jones said. “Day and night almost. We just text him. He’s here and he works on our shots and our layups and going strong (to the hoop).”

The additional time in the gym allows Williams to share his knowledge of the game, and it’s one of the reasons Williams has stuck with coaching for over 20 years.

In 1986, both Williams and Borseth coached in Ironwood, a small town in the Upper Peninsula. Williams was the coach of the girl’s varsity team at Ironwood High School and Borseth was the coach of the women’s team at Gogebic Community College.

In 1988, Williams spent one season under Borseth at Michigan Technological University. The two have kept in touch since.

When Borseth took the Michigan job last year, he reeled in two assistants from Grand Valley State. The first was head coach Dawn Plitzuweit, who played under Borseth at Michigan Tech. The second was Williams.

“I knew that we had a lot of teaching we had to do, (and) he teaches extremely well,” Borseth said. “And unless you were really under his guidance and worked with him, it’s hard to explain. He really does a good job of feeding these kids. I got a lot of confidence in him.”

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