NBA Draft prospect Jaylin Williams: ‘I like being the underdog. That’s always been my thing.’

Arkansas Razorbacks big man Jaylin Williams is one of the more intriguing big men in the draft, and arguably the best passer at his position.

Williams, who is still just 19 years old and measured at 6’10” in shoes (with massive hands) at the 2022 NBA Draft Combine, has advanced playmaking instincts in the short roll and on dribble handoffs. It is especially impressive when considering his age, size, and usage rate.

As an underclassman who sets fantastic screens and makes the right hustle plays, the big man also had an elite impact on winning while at Arkansas.

As we saw during the surprising Arkansas upset victory over Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament, Williams is willing to put his body on the line if it helps his team. He averaged 1.8 charges drawn per 40 minutes, according to CBB Analytics, the most among all D-I players who logged at least 700 minutes last season.

Although there is plenty of room to improve his efficiency when shooting from beyond the arc and finishing at the rim, Williams projects well due to his ability to read rotations on both ends of the floor.

All things considered, it is easy to imagine Williams playing a role in the frontcourt at the next level. The prospect spoke to For The Win about exactly that, including how his game will translate to the NBA, and plenty more.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Where did you develop your love for basketball?

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Jaylin Williams: My older siblings played basketball and my dad was an athlete. He played everything. My mom played basketball, too. I grew up watching my brothers and my sister play. We played in the backyard on a plastic backboard on concrete with outside basketballs. My dad taught me how to be in the right positions. My dad worked with me from a young age. We would come back from the Boys and Girls Club and he would record the game and show me how I could have done something different. Even still in college, he was doing that. He sends me clips and shows me what I could have done better. It just made me love the game of basketball. I like winning, and that made my love for the game even stronger.

How often do you watch game film, relative to the average NBA draft prospect?

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Williams: Every day! I shouldn’t say this, but in college, I would watch film in class. But on the way back from games, if I couldn’t get film yet, I would study the box score. I’m always watching the games. I always had to watch the game at least one time before I went to sleep just to see what I could have done better and to see what the team could have done better. We would watch film before practice. That added to what I did on my own, too.

If I didn’t have a good shooting game, I’d try to see if I rushed my jump shot or if I didn’t give it enough arc. I would always re-watch turnovers and think about what else I could have done. Did I try to force something? Did I throw it too late? Could I have thrown it to them at a better spot? Could I have thrown it higher? I’m always watching film to figure out what I could have done better and learn things like that so if the situation comes again, I can try to make that pass. If I think I could have gotten better at something, I would try to focus on those things.

You take charges more than any other prospect. Why is that such a priority for you?

Williams: I’ve been taking charges my whole life. My dad taught me to be in the right position. It wasn’t always for the sake of taking a charge, but it was to be in the right position to help out my teammates. I’ve done it as long as I can remember, but now I have cameras on me and people recording me and people are reacting to me doing it. To me, it’s like blocking a shot or stealing a ball. For me, I just want to win, regardless of how it happens. I don’t care if I’m not playing. Of course, I want to play. But if I have to do the small things like take charges and dive for a ball and rebound, I’m willing to do that for the team. Whatever it is to win, that’s what I want to do.

You’re one of the best playmaking bigs in this class. How will that translate to the pros?

Williams: I think it’s going to be incredible. I work on those things every day when I work out, hitting those backdoor passes or those one-handed passes over the top. I can read the game and read situations. I always try to stay one play ahead. I played point guard growing up. I was one of the tallest kids, but I was good at the game, so I played the point guard. In high school, I brought the ball up against the press just because I could see over people and I could make those passes.

This past year at Arkansas, when it was either JD Notae or Chris Lykes bringing the ball up the floor, I was right there with them. I’m good at making all of those decisions and I like making them. I watch guys like Draymond Green and Bam Adebayo and Nikola Jokic. They run the offense out of the top and they have that passing ability and that IQ.

How would you defend someone like Nikola Jokic?

Williams: That’s probably one of the hardest guards in the league. But I would definitely pressure him because of how good he is at passing. That’s something we did at Arkansas. We tried to pressure guys who can make passes. I would try to push him out of his comfort zone in that mid-range and mid-post area, close to the 3-point area, so he can’t make those passes. The further you push him out, the longer the pass is going to be, and the further the offense gets pushed from the basket. If you pressure him and don’t let him get those easy passes and those easy things, it’s going to make the offense run slower, and you’re deeper from the goal.

But I just really like challenges. I like playing against guys that are the top dogs. I like being the underdog. That’s always been my thing. I want to play against Jokic. I want to play against the Warriors and see how they run their offense and see how they move around so much. I want to play against Bam Adebayo and see how hard the Heat play on offense and on defense. Every team requires a different defensive concept.

How do you think Arkansas coach Eric Musselman prepared you for the NBA?

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Williams: Everything you want to know about basketball, he can teach you. He’s going to have you prepare and you’re going to know every strength and weakness of the guy you are playing against. You will know their first and last name and you will know what jersey number they wear. If the two-guard is on the right-wing and the four-man is on the left dunker spot and the other guard is in the right corner, you’ll know exactly what play they are running. You’ll know every play and you’ll know every scheme and you’ll know what they’re good at and what they are bad at. You’ll know if they’re going to press you and how to beat their defense and how often they run zone. All the coaches at Arkansas were so good at getting you prepared for what is going on on the court.

What have been your primary areas of focus so far this offseason?

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Williams: I’ve been working out and focusing on my body and my game. I’ve been working out three or four times per day, eating well, losing body fat — I’m down to 8% and I want to get around 6% — and getting in better condition, getting better with my athletic ability. I might start jumping higher and getting stronger. I’m working on my 3-point shot, and working on my on-court skills. I’ve been working a lot. That 3-point shot is what will take my game to another level.

When you are meeting with teams, what do you make sure to tell them about yourself?

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Williams: I’m from Arkansas, born and raised. I’ve been there my whole life. I’m very family-oriented. I’m close with my three brothers, my sister, my mom, and my dad. Everything I do is for them. I love basketball. But I want to give back to the people where I grew up. I want to give back to young athletes. I want to inspire people that are from where I’m from to believe that they can do what I’m doing. That’s my main goal.

What else do you like to do when you’re not playing basketball?

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Williams: I play XBOX. I’ve done that my whole life. I’m just as competitive as I am on the court. I try to be the best at every game I play. I’m talking smack the whole time I’m playing Madden. I play that the most. I’m pretty good at reading what beats certain coverages. I’ve learned a lot of that from playing Madden. I also like fishing. Me and Devo used to go all the time. We actually had a little spot where we got a machete and cut through the tall grass. It just clears my mind. I didn’t always have phone service. I wouldn’t get notifications. I’m just out there talking. I’d go with my cousins or my friends. We would talk about memories from high school. I would go with Devo and we would talk about practice and talk about schemes and who we were going to play in the SEC.

What would it mean for you to represent Arkansas in the NBA?

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Williams: It’s going to be incredible. I want to show kids from Arkansas that they can do this. That’s one of the reasons why I didn’t go to prep school for high school. I had offers to go to any school in the country, but I stayed at Fort Smith because I wanted to show the kids that they did not have to leave. They can do it here. I wanted to stay in-state at Arkansas for college because I wanted to show the kids that they didn’t have to leave to make it to the NBA. You don’t have to go a different route. You can stay where you are from. When I put on an NBA jersey, they will know I’m from the same place they are. I went to high school with Isaiah Joe from the 76ers. Bobby Portis, Daniel Gafford, Moses Moody — those guys motivated me.

I have to ask: How weird is it that there are two people with your name in this draft?

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Williams: I talked to him at the NBA Draft Combine. It was funny because we had to do a lot of interviews there. Somehow, even though we could go to every interview whenever we wanted, he and I would always end up in the same room at the same time. We were always like, “Bro, go somewhere else!” He’s a really cool dude and a really great player. I always saw his name and I would get tagged in posts for him and I would watch his highlights. I hope he gets drafted super high.

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