It took a while, but Jalen Williams is no longer a curiosity. The secret is out regarding the Santa Clara guard who is the school’s most talented player since Steve Nash.
Williams, 21, is expected to become the first player from Santa Clara to be drafted in the first round since Nash in 1996. The question is how high he’ll go. And in the run-up to the draft, which includes private workouts, meetings, and the NBA Draft combine, Williams can sense a change in how he’s perceived.
“I definitely felt the shift in the combine where I’ve been able to show everything that I’ve been working on,” Williams said Tuesday in a phone interview. “People obviously haven’t seen me, being on the West Coast. We play later so everybody misses our games. But I felt with what I did at the combine, people’s eyes were opened seeing me live and the little things I can bring to the table.”
Not only did Williams have the longest wingspan of any guard in the draft (over 7-foot-2 inches), but he also had the best standing vertical leap and was a standout during scrimmages on both days while other players sat out a day or didn’t participate at all.
Eyes were opened to the point where Williams and his family were extended a green room invitation Thursday with all the big names at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. That doesn’t happen unless a player is a potential lottery (top 14) selection.
“He’s no longer a diamond in the rough,” longtime WCC analyst Dan Belloumini said. “Everybody knows about him now. I believe he’s going to be drafted relatively high. I really do believe that.”
Since Williams declared for the draft on March 31, he’s shot baskets in front of Jerry West in a workout with the Los Angeles Clippers and had a sit-down with San Antonio Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. He worked out for the Warriors when they were in the midst of a championship run. Williams discovered what he’d heard was true — Golden State workouts were serious business in terms of deciphering who can get up and down the floor.
“They like to play fast, and a lot of their stuff is based on conditioning,” Williams said. “It was fun to be there going into the Finals atmosphere and to have them all there. Draymond (Green) was yelling and jumping around during our workout, coaching us up. It was a very cool experience and something I won’t forget.”
Not that the Warriors, picking at No. 28 in the first round, will have a chance at drafting Williams, nor is it certain they’d be looking for another athlete to put on the wing when there is dirty work to be addressed inside.
But in the follow-the-leader mentality of professional sports, more NBA teams will gradually play as the Warriors play. Which happens to suit Williams just fine.
“I think I’m going to be able to evolve,” Williams said. “There is a lot more space and tricks and things of that nature I’m going to bring to the table. I feel like my talents are going to be kind of enhanced in the NBA, being able to play against more athletic people. There is so much more spacing, and I’m looking forward to seeing how much that affects my game.”
Williams averaged 18.0 points per game and was an All-West Coast Conference pick as a junior, showing the ability to hit 3-pointers (39.6 percent), handle the ball and facilitate. Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek is quick to point out that while NBA scouts may have defensive concerns, Williams broke into the starting lineup as a freshman primarily because of his ability to defend on the perimeter.
Overlooked for the most part at Perry High in Gilbert, Arizona, Williams averaged 23.3 points per game as a senior. When coach Sam Duane arrived at Perry, Williams was a 5-foot-11 sophomore.
“He was like a young baby deer,” Perry High coach Sam Duane said. “He was all arms and legs. You could just see when his body filled out he was going to be really good.”
Interest was minimal, but Sendek, acting on his own instinct as well as intel from assistant Jason Ludwig, was interested.
“We just felt he was the complete and total package and his best basketball was in front of him,” Sendek said. “He was growing into his body, and had a really great feel for the game.”
Ludwig, who coached Klay Thompson and Paul George for a 17-and-under team in a summer league, thinks Williams is made for the NBA.
“He translates perfectly. He’s a 6-5, ball-handling guard. He can shoot, pick and roll, guard multiple positions,” Ludwig said. “He’s a great passer, can score at all three levels.”
Sendek said it was clear early on last season Williams would likely be moving on to the NBA given his level of play. Ludwig recalled scrimmages with Oregon and Oregon State where the point was driven home.
“I walked away from those games thinking to myself, ‘Jalen is the best player on the floor and it’s not even close,’ ” Ludwig said.
Duane gets a big laugh out of seeing coaches out and about and reminding them how they passed on Williams during high school recruiting.
“I tell them, ‘Told you so!’ ” Duane said. “They thought he wasn’t explosive or quick enough, looking for reasons not take him instead of what he can do. But it never seemed to bother him. He got so much joy out of playing. He is having fun. He’s done it his way and it’s been fun to watch.”
If there’s any bitterness to be found in Williams for being overlooked, he keeps it well hidden. His parents, Ronald and Nicole Williams, are Air Force veterans. Williams didn’t grow up in a home of military discipline, although they were sticklers for him making his bed properly. In contrast to his younger brother Cody, a 6-8 point guard and major college recruit at Perry, Jalen went under the radar and he’s fine with that.
“It doesn’t bother me at all, actually,” Williams said. “I’m not really playing for recognition, but I do take a lot of pride in putting Santa Clara, a small school, back on the map with a lot of this stuff for the first time since Nash.”
Williams had limited contacts at Santa Clara with Nash, the Canadian guard who won two MVPs and played in eight All-Star games in 18 NBA seasons. He did, however, speak with Nash, coach of the Brooklyn Nets, at the NBA combine.
“I met him briefly at school, but then COVID hit,” Williams said. “I got to interview with him at the combine and that was really cool.”
Although the timing was right for an exit from Santa Clara, Williams said the decision tugged at his heartstrings.
“Coach Herb was telling me it was time, and I kind of felt it was time,” Williams said. “This NBA process is really exciting, but it’s sad to leave behind all your friends, pack up your room and kind of be done with school.”
Soruce : https://www.mercurynews.com/2022/06/22/nba-draft-jalen-williams-gets-his-shot-26-years-after-nash-broke-through-for-santa-clara/