Once upon a time
Tamika Williams and Richard Jeter were much alike.
“We were basketball players first,” said Tamika, who in 2014 added Jeter to her name. Entering her first season as Flyer head women’s basketball coach, she brings with her a lengthy, illustrious basketball résumé — as a player at every level, as an assistant coach at Power 5 schools and, last year, as head coach at Wittenberg University.
Richard, a native of Jacksonville, Florida, was national junior college player of the year when he was at Atlanta Metro College; he played in the NBA and overseas including in Russia and Ukraine. Basketball holds immense importance for him.
“Basketball saved my life,” he said. “It was the only way I could have made it out of where I was from.”
Tamika, from Dayton, is a hometown hero. Playing for Chaminade Julienne High School, the local Marianist high school, she was Ohio Miss Basketball. At the University of Connecticut, she picked up a couple of national championships before embarking on seven seasons in the WNBA.
Basketball is still important for her and Richard. But their lives now have more, including their sons, Josiah (Jojo), 3, and Richard (RJ), 7. And they have each other.
But that relationship got off to a slow start.
“We met in 2001,” Tamika said. “I had just turned 21 and was visiting my older sister, Tangy, in Atlanta. After two days I felt I needed to work out. (I was 15% body fat then.)”
So she went to a 24-hour basketball facility called Run N Shoot, located in an old grocery store, to play some pick-up ball. Richard was there, too. “He was dunking and all that,” she said.
But she had a boyfriend. “I tended to date older men,” she said. “Richard is younger. He was cute. But a baby,” she smiled. Richard is two months younger.
For weeks afterward, her childhood friend Rhonda Price, whom she also had visited in Atlanta, kept receiving calls from Richard asking for Tamika’s contact information. He didn’t get it.
Three years later, Tamika was playing professional basketball in Minneapolis. The NBA summer league — including Richard — was playing there, too. One day, as Tamika was leaving the arena, a manager came up to her and said, “A player gave me $150 to keep you in the arena.”
“I was going to leave,” Tamika said. “But he pleaded, ‘I need the money.’”
So she stayed.
And Richard came to her and hugged her. They went out for weeks. Throughout the summer they kept in contact. She was playing in Phoenix; he was going to go to Ukraine to play. He went to Phoenix to see her.
“I had bought a second home in Columbus, Ohio; I invited him to visit. He chickened out; he went to Ukraine.”
Then they each married ... other people. For years they had no contact.
By 2013, they each had divorced. Tamika changed her name back to Williams and was keeping a low profile. “But I started getting texts from someone calling themself ‘Dunkers and Jumpers.’ I didn’t know who that was. So I didn’t respond until one day that texter asked, ‘Are you OK?’”
When she asked around if someone knew who “Dunkers and Jumpers” might be, Rhonda did. Richard had seen the name “Williams” and figured it out.
They visited each other. And married.
“Our first weddings were big, Ritz-Carlton kind of stuff,” Tamika said. “Richard and I married in a house in Lexington.”
When Richard as “Dunkers and Jumpers” had contacted her, he was playing in South America. “I had not, out of respect, contacted her when she was married. But when I saw she changed her name, I reached out to her. I thought, ‘When I get back to the States, I’m not going to make the same mistake twice.’
“I retired from pro ball. I gave up playing basketball to have a family.”
There was a bit of a disagreement over his retiring. “If you still have something in the tank,” Tamika said, “you can still play.” And Richard did have an offer in South America.
“I’m not going,” he said.
“For the first time, it wasn’t about basketball,” he said. “It wasn’t about me. Over the years, I learned that basketball is temporary. Family is important.”
“For the first time, it wasn’t about basketball.”
So now Dayton’s Tamika Williams is back home — with Richard and RJ and Jojo, in the same town with her mother, a former algebra and calculus teacher who now has dementia. “My mom was a teacher,” Tamika said. “She told me you learn more from the people you teach than they do from you. What I do is teach and coach. I work on getting people to see what they have within themselves.”
Richard’s trying to do that with Tamika was the source of an argument they once had. A Division I program had shown interest through mutual contacts in her as their coach. Richard told her, “You’re ready.”
She said, “No.”
And they both said some other words.
When the Dayton job became a possibility, he said, “Do whatever you want.”
So this spring, Richard and Tamika, besides talking to University of Dayton Magazine, were moving furniture from Columbus (where Richard directs an amateur basketball program) to Dayton, buying a washer and dryer, juggling children’s schedules, looking at schools ...
And Tamika is recruiting basketball players.
“I like long, tall guards,” she said, with a glance at the 6-foot-6 guard to whom she is married.