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Women’s Basketball: When Hurricane Laura ripped apart Brandi Williams’ home, the Ragin’ Cajuns had h

Tim Buckley, The Advertiser, Feb. 27, 2021

Brandi Williams needed some time away.

Battered by two hurricanes, her family home in Lake Charles was nearly destroyed last semester.

The Ragin’ Cajuns junior guard wanted to be with loved ones.

“I had to take a break from basketball to focus on that with my family,” Williams said.

“Because we were going through a lot. We were trying to figure out where … they were going to stay with everything, because, basically, our house was messed up, my uncle’s house was messed up.”

Her grandmother’s house didn’t have electricity, leaving few options.

For most of September, not long before the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns’ Dec. 4 season opener, Williams didn’t touch a basketball. Her focus was on rebuilding – not a team, but a home.

Yet now Williams, who is averaging 12.1 points per game, is the top scorer for UL (12-5, 11-1 Sun Belt), which had won 11 straight heading into its final two games of the regular season against Little Rock on Friday (6 p.m.) and Saturday (4 p.m.) at the Cajundome.

Click here for photo gallery of Hurricane Delta when it hit Lake Charles, Oct. 20, 2020. 

The Barbe High product scored a career-high 32 points in UL’s last outing, a Feb. 13 win at UL Monroe.

“She’s a tough kid,” Cajuns coach Garry Brodhead said.

And she’s not alone.

“Her parents are very strong people,” Brodhead said. “And they were able to get her kind of calmed down and make her realize that, ‘Hey, what we’re doing, it may take a little bit of time to get it all fixed up, but we’re gonna do it the right way.’

“From the grandmother on down … how they handled that situation is kind of helping Brandi to be able to handle her situation between basketball and all the things that were going on.”

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Williams went back and forth

Williams traveled to Dallas to be with a sister while others, including her mother, Tarsha Sias-Broussard, a plant supervisor and firefighter, and her brother, Brandon Sias, a Lake Charles firefighter, stayed behind as the first hurricane approached.

For a while afterward, Williams bounced around with relatives searching for a dry place to sleep.

“I was back and forth from Dallas to Houston, back to Beaumont, back to Lafayette,” she said. “I was just all over the place.”

Hurricane Laura reaching sustained winds of 150 miles per hour before making landfall Aug. 27 in Cameron – about 30 miles from Lake Charles – as a Category 4 storm that caused $14 billion-plus in damages and killed at least 26.

A few days later, several UL program members traveled to Lake Charles to help Williams clear debris. From roofing to an entire flooring structure, pieces of the house were scattered throughout the front yard, the side and the backyard.

About six weeks later, on Oct. 9, Category 2 Hurricane Delta landed in nearby Creole.

What already was really bad got much worse.

Photo gallery:McNeese State football recovering from hurricanes

“Laura, she messed up the roof,” Williams said. “We only had a little bit of flooding. But when Delta hit … it flooded the whole inside.”

A tarp that had been covering the damaged roof area didn’t stand a chance.

Delta caused so much water damage that drywall throughout most of the house, like in so many Lake Charles-area homes, had to be stripped to the studs.  

Four-plus months after Delta, a piece of the roof still was stuck in the front yard.

The camper her parents have been living in sits in front of the house, which should be ready to occupy as soon as flooring and finishing touches are complete.

It’s a lot to process.

“When I got to the house I was just looking at it and I was like, ‘Yeah, I think it’s best if I step back from basketball … and be with y’all and help figure out where we’re gonna stay and what we’re gonna do,’ ” she said.

“It was so stressful for mom, especially with her having to go to work. … So, yeah, it was best for me to just take a break and help them with the house.”

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Leaving the Cajuns behind wasn’t easy

Williams, the 2019 Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the Year, was UL’s No. 2 scorer in 2019-20.

Leaving her team behind wouldn’t be easy. But she had a support network.

“When I said I needed a break,” Williams said, “I didn’t know how long. … (Cajun coaches) were like, ‘Take as long as you need to.’ "

“Every single (teammate) understood. They texted me with, ‘Do what you’ve got to do. Be with your family. At the end of the day we’re gonna be here for you.’ ”

They texted or called Williams daily.

Preseason camp started, though, and Williams still hadn’t returned.

Feeling guilty about having a clean, safe apartment in Lafayette to go back to when things still weren’t right for Tarsha, her father Warren Broussard and other relatives an hour-plus away in Lake Charles, she wasn’t sure when she’d be back.

“I was thinking months maybe,” Williams said. “But talking with my mom, she was like, ‘You don’t need to stay out that long. … Go back and play basketball.’ ”

“Her mom’s a tough lady,” Brodhead added, “and I think at that point her mom was really wanting her to come back (to the team) … and get back into a normal situation.”

It was time.

“Honestly,” Brodhead said, “I can remember the first day she came back to practice and it looked like she hadn’t missed a beat.”

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‘It was as if I never left’

 A super shooter, Williams didn’t need long before feeling like her old self.

“It blows my mind,” she said, “because I wasn’t really in shape.”

Strength coach Nick Capdepon and athletic trainer Stephanie Snow helped, drawing on a sound base built long before Laura tore so much down.

“She was able to work out this summer and get all that done,” Brodhead said, “so when it hit home for her in Lake Charles that month didn’t hurt as much as somebody that wasn’t prepared.”

Teammates took care of the rest.

“A lot of times when you have a scorer like that some of (it) is because of what everybody else does too,” Brodhead said, “and I think that helped … her feel comfortable coming back.”

It did.

“It was as if I never left, when I came back,” Williams said. “They really helped me with everything and I really appreciate them.”

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Hurricane damage lingers in Lake Charles

Half-a-year after Laura’s wrath ripped through Lake Charles, scars still aren’t healed.

Families were displaced, some never to return. The image of home after home in Calcasieu Parish covered in blue tarps is difficult to shake from the mind.

For Williams, the holidays were especially stressful.

“It was Christmas,” Williams said, “but it didn’t feel like Christmas because we really (weren’t) in our house. We were in a RV.”

But thanks to family and friends doing much of the work themselves, and professionals handling the rest, repairs were nearing completion by mid-February.

Williams returned Sunday to Lake Charles to paint her old room. It was a big, emotional milestone for the kid away at college. But once back in Lafayette, she and Brodhead could share a much-needed laugh.

“I talked to her this morning,” Brodhead said Monday. “It was, ‘Did the painting go good?’ (She said), ‘Oh, yeah, I finished my room.’ I said, ‘Well, good, you can come do mine.’ ”