Growing up as the youngest of three siblings in a competitive family, Kennedy Todd-Williams had to develop her own competitive edge.
Immersed in basketball from the time she was young, she never caught a break. Her older brother and sister were constantly playing backyard basketball games like H.O.R.S.E. and 21 with her.
Did they ever go easy on her?
"Absolutely not," Todd-Williams said with a smile.
It's that competitive edge, that constant push — whether external or internal — to keep getting better that makes Todd-Williams, in the words of UNC women's basketball head coach Courtney Banghart, “a coach's dream.”
Now a sophomore guard for the Tar Heels, Todd-Williams possesses both the natural athletic ability and attitude that make it easy for her coaches.
This season, she's more than doubled her scoring total from her first-year campaign, averaging 10.6 points per game to go along with six rebounds a game and a 40.7 percent shooting rate — five points higher than last season. She is top three on the team in six major categories: points, rebounds, steals, blocks, field goals made and minutes.
But in Todd-Williams' mind, what sets her apart is her desire to continually improve.
That persistent pursuit of excellence will matter more than ever in the NCAA Tournament later this month, when it's win or go home. The Tar Heels will find out who their first-round opponents are on March 13.
Though the Tar Heels were knocked out of the ACC Tournament in their opening game after an 87-80 loss in overtime to Virginia Tech, Todd-Williams is not one that gets hung up on the result on the scoreboard.
Todd-Williams, or "Toddy," as her coaches and teammates call her, is focused on always getting better — and she’s willing to put in the time to do so.
“Her progression as a player matters to her," Banghart said. "You’re not wasting your time. Toddy just wants to get better, all the time."
'The game is fun'
Todd-Williams' drive and hustle jump far beyond the stat sheet.
Watching her on the court, one of the aspects of Todd-Williams’ game that makes her stand out is the relentless energy she brings to every game. To her, energy translates to play, which translates to success.
And no matter how tired her constant in-game effort makes her, she's never not having a blast.
"Basketball is all about having fun, not worrying about so many other things," Todd-Williams said. " Because it's fun — the game is fun."
Even before committing as a rising high school sophomore in 2017, Todd-Williams had already fallen in love with Chapel Hill and UNC basketball. Though her coach now is not the coach that originally recruited her, her desire to join the program never wavered.
"There was no second thought in going anywhere else because this is my home,” Todd-Williams said.
But while her drive has helped take her game to the next level this season, it’s not always a positive thing for Todd-Williams.
Sometimes, it can cause her to be so focused on bettering herself as a player that she can miss out on certain things.
Sophomore forward Alexandra Zelaya has been friends with Todd-Williams since they spent their first year on campus as roommates. She said she's been able to witness first-hand her friend’s growth from one year to the next — but not just as a player.
“Part of growing up is learning the balance of work and life outside work," Zelaya said. "And we’re still learning that because we’re still growing up and we’re still going through life. But I also think (Todd-Williams) has learned that ‘Hey, I have my routine when it comes to basketball, and I also have a life outside that.'"
How does one disconnect from basketball when your whole life revolves around a constant schedule of practices, workouts and games? For Todd-Williams, it was all in appreciating the little things, including one tradition that comes at the expense of her teammates and friends.
It's a tradition she started with Zelaya back in their first-year dorm room. Whenever she had the opportunity, Todd-Williams would try and scare Zelaya when she’d come back into their room — hiding behind doors and any other object and try to get a scream out of her friend.
“She has all of those recorded on her phone, so we go back and watch them sometimes, and it’s just so hard not to laugh,” Zelaya said. “She’s a hard worker, but she’s just hilarious and goofy. I wish people could see that through the court.”
The pranks are something that Todd-Williams has kept up into her sophomore year. Now, nobody on her team is safe.
"Our team is very close, so I know that if I mess with someone, they’re not mad or anything," she said. "I just like to have fun and make people laugh.”
Another thing that Todd-Williams hasn’t forgotten is the fact that she gets to play for the Tar Heels, something she has always dreamt of.
"This is what I worked for," she said. "This is what I have dedicated myself to."
Todd-Williams admitted that she doesn't remind herself enough of how proud she is of what she's accomplished. At that, her coach chimed in:
“Good, Toddy," she said. "We’re growing!”
The Kennedy Todd-Williams that will step onto the court later this month is a product of all of these things — the pranks, the love for her team and school and the relentless drive that got her where she is today.
But when she hits the court later this month, none of that will be visible. All you'll see is the tireless player who refuses to stop trying, because that's exactly who she is.
“It does not matter where, when or why — Toddy is going to give her 100 percent,” Zelaya said.
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