With the No. 34 overall pick in the 2022 NBA Draft, the Oklahoma City Thunder selected former Arkansas Razorbacks big man Jaylin Williams.
As a sophomore, Williams averaged 10.9 points, 9.8 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.3 steals and 1.1 blocks, while shooting 46.1% from the field. Williams set Arkansas' single-season record for total rebounds (364), and he led the nation in charges drawn (54) last season.
While the immediate reaction centered around the fact that Oklahoma City had drafted both Jaylin Williams and Jalen Williams (a guard from Santa Clara who went No. 12), the pick also marked the first time that a player of Vietnamese descent was drafted by an NBA team.
Basketball News caught up with Williams to discuss his game, his fit in Oklahoma City, the Thunder’s young core, teaming up with Jalen Williams, making history and more.
How was your draft-night experience? Did the evening go as expected or were there surprises?
Jaylin Williams: “It was great, honestly. I had a lot of my family there. We did it at my old high school in Fort Smith, Arkansas. My high school just built a new gym, so we used their JumboTron and everything they had there. I invited, like, 90 people, but because word got around and because I have so much family, we ended up having closer to 200 people there! But just having my whole family there with me and sharing that experience with them is something that I’ll never pass up on. I wouldn’t wish for anything else — that was the best thing that could’ve happened.”
How did you react when your name was called? Did you get emotional?
Williams: “My agent called me a little bit before [they announced the pick] and told me, ‘Hey, you’re up next. They’re going to take you with this pick.’ I tried to hold the emotion in, so I could just hear it and so everybody wouldn’t start going crazy. But I heard my name called, and it was crazy. It was just unreal. A mind-blowing sort of thing. It’s something you dream of your entire life — you dream of that moment and what it’ll be like to hear your name get called on that night. My emotions just started rolling, seeing my family so happy, seeing people cheering, looking at my dad and hugging him, hugging my mom and my brothers and sister. It was crazy for me.”
What do you think of your fit with the Thunder’s young core?
Williams: “I’m feeling great, honestly. It’s a young team, and I’m willing to get in there and work. I’m willing to do the things that not a lot of people are willing to do. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to do it — whether that’s diving on the ground for loose balls, or taking charges, or slinging it, passing up on a shot to get the ball to a teammate, and just things like that. I’m willing to do all of those small, dirty-work things, and I’m willing to be a glue guy.”
What was your first impression of Oklahoma City when you arrived there?
Williams: “Since I’m from Arkansas and it's not that far away, I’ve been to OKC before. My sister actually lives there. Honestly, it was crazy; people were already showing so much love to me and everybody was already being so welcoming — coming up to me and saying congrats and that they’re really happy I’m here. Honestly, it was just so great sharing that time with the other rookies and meeting the staff and talking to everybody there. It was great.”
How is your sister reacting? She must be happy to have you in OKC.
Williams: “She’s excited, for sure. She actually doesn’t live too far from the facilities, and my nephew and niece live there too. My nephew is a basketball player, and I’m really happy that I got picked there because I think it’ll give my nephew another bit of motivation.”
now y'all can use the legit photo 😅😂 pic.twitter.com/Ggw6AIy6hJ— OKC THUNDER (@okcthunder) June 26, 2022
I love that you and Jalen Williams ended up on the same team, and I think it’s hilarious that you guys recreated the Spider-Man meme.
Williams: “We kinda were talking about it and then when we both got drafted that night, we were getting tagged in a bunch of posts like, ‘Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams!’ Then, when we saw each other, we talked about it a little bit and clarified what we’re going to call each other and what we want everybody else to call us so they don’t get mixed up (Jalen is J-Dub and Jaylin is J-Will). We put our jerseys on and they were taking photos and we were just kinda like, ‘Let’s do it! That’s funny, let’s have fun!’ [Recreating the Spider-Man meme] was a fun thing to do.”
You guys were getting mixed up during the pre-draft process too, so this isn’t a new thing for you guys. This was happening even before you ended up on the same team, right?
Williams: “Yeah. Even before [the pre-draft process], I was getting tagged in his highlights and he told me that he was getting tagged in mine, so there were a lot of times where we’d see each other’s stuff. Then, at the Combine, we always ended up in the same room and people would talk to us like, ‘What’s your name?’ And I’d say, ‘Jaylin Williams.’ And they’d be like, ‘Okay, are you Jaylin with a Y or Jalen with an E?’ We’d always end up in the same room and I’d just be like, ‘What’s up, bro? Get out of the room! We can’t be in the same room at the same time!’ So, it’s definitely funny that we ended up in the same spot.”