top of page


Earl Williams

Katherine raised her niece Denisha as her own child, providing a safe, stable home


  Katherine, who served as a longtime U.S. Postal Carrier, was Denisha’s No. 1 advocate. During the holiday season, she conducted clinics to help players improve their basketball IQ and skills. 

   In those days, she would also sit in the stands observing the action on the court, critiquing players and game management, often offering insights, and providing constructive criticism. 

  Katherine was not one of those over-the-top, crazy parents barking orders to their daughters during games, living their basketball dreams through their children. 

  She knew what it took to be a successful high school player and collegiate athlete. Not many people in the gym knew that Katherine was once a phenomenal basketball player at Long Beach Jordan High and UC Irvine. In 1989, officials inducted her into the Anteaters Athletic Hall of Fame, an institution where she still is the all-time leader in career points, free throws made, and field goals made.

   “She was very dedicated,’’ said Monique Johnson, a mother Katherine befriended while her daughter Mya competed with Denisha at Saint Anthony High. “Anything Denisha needed, she tried to fulfill.’’

  Adrienne, who played basketball at Jordan and Long Beach City College, used her family’s delicious apple pie recipe to create slices to sell at the snack bar. “It’s probably the best apple pie you will ever eat,’’ Monique recalled. “She made it all the time for the sack bar.’’

   Katherine advocated for the girls. She wanted all players who competed in Lady Saints basketball program to achieve their goals of earning athletic scholarships to compete in college. Somes times, this meant putting fire underneath britches of coaches to make calls to college coaches on behalf of athletes.

 “Every game, Katherine was always there,’’ Monique said. “I know she was always pulling girls to the side, telling them things they should do and work on because of her experience. She was really good at that. She was always giving advice.”

  A good percentage of the time, Katherine worked to improve the skills of forwards and centers. Many parents didn’t know how to approach her because she was the kind of person who spoke her mind, nothing vicious. Katherine, who worked with children in Long Beach Parks and Recreation for years, knew how to provide 

athletes constructive criticism. 

  Katherine was forthright. She and Monique were like two peas in a pod. During the two years Mya played in the program, the mothers often had honest conversations about issues concerning athletes, including training and development, college recruitment, and life. 

  People weren’t always receptive to Katherine’s stance, said Monique, who appreciated her insights.

  “I think people had a misperception of her because she was so ‘matter of a fact,’’ Monique said. “She had a certain tone, and people didn’t warm up to her.” 

  They got along well. Some times, Katherine, Adrienne, their sister Pearl, and Monique conducted backyard cookouts on birthdays and for Lady Saints bonding sessions. 

  Away from the girls, the mothers and aunts hosted Spades and Dominos Nights and dined at restaurants.

  “We had a lot of good times outside of basketball,’’ Monique said.  

  Katherine taught Denisha the importance of having a great work ethic. In addition to her mother, Daisy, Katherine had great mentors to model herself after, including Lorie Lindahl, her legendary high school coach at 

Jordan High, Tap Nixon, her Long Beach Parks and Recreation coach, and Dean Andrea, her Hall of Fame coach at UCI.

  Andrea, now retired, said, ”She was so well-respected. (Katherine) came from a great family. Her mom was a wonderful woman. She helped steer Katherine in the right direction. Her roots helped us grow as a program.’’

  Denise Swann, who competed with Katherine as a youth and at Jordan High, said Daisy welcomed her home, and she especially enjoyed the times when she ate some of Daisy’s delicious cooking. 

  The welcoming atmosphere was the kind of environment Katherine and Adrienne wanted to raise their niece in.

  When Denisha was a 4-year-old and 6-year-old, respectively, Katherine signed her up for Taekwondo and youth basketball.  Denisha flourished in martial arts at local, regional, and national Taekwondo Tournaments and once had aspirations of competing for the U.S.A. national team. Later, Denisha earned a master’s degree belt.

  For basketball, Katherine stepped in to serve as a youth coach when coaches abandoned teams. She brought Adrienne onboard to serve as an assistant coach and scorekeeper. 

  Denisha has some fond memories, life lessons, and adventures.  “She was my mom and best friend,’’ said Denisha. “She was embedded into everything I did. She is all I ever knew. Everything I have learned came from her. She was the most important person I have ever had in my life. At the drop of a dime, she would stop to help people and did not expect anything back, always offering insights and advice to help people better themselves.”

  At times, Katherine challenged Denisha. One unexpected great escape trip turned into a teachable moment for Denisha, one she will never forget. “We ended up in San Diego,’’ said Denisha. Katherine and Denisha logged at a hotel near basketball courts (Her basketball was lucky enough to make the trek down the coast, too).  “I always loved to play basketball with my mom and talk about the game’’ said Denisha, who was thrilled to put up some shots at Katherine’s suggestion. “This trip was all about me. The focus was on me. The fun shoot-around turned into a workout session. She critiqued me too much, and I did not want to listen. I had a temper tantrum, and she coerced me into playing one-on-one. Mom was humble but knew how to get me all riled up.’’

  Denisha took the bait:  “You’re never ready to go against her. My mom was the teacher. A teacher will always teach.  I never had my shot blocked so many times. I tried to ping-pong around the court, but it didn’t matter. She was everywhere. I couldn’t do anything. It took the fun out of that trip.’’ 

  This became a fond memory. “It was always a good time,’’ Denisha recalled. “Wait ‘til next time (always the battle cry).” Those teachable moments made Denisha appreciate Katherine’s presence and “her knowledge of the game so much more.”

bottom of page