GILBERT – When Jalen Williams hears his name called in the first round of the 2022 NBA Draft Thursday, it will complete a journey that came as a surprise to many people around basketball. His younger brother is not one of those people.
“I don’t know why, but when I was little, I always saw him going to the NBA,” Cody Williams said. “It was never like a question. I don’t know if that was just because I looked up to him because he’s my older brother, but I always saw him in the league.”
Like Jalen before him, Cody is now a key part of a powerhouse Perry High School basketball team. The older Williams still has a strong legacy with the Pumas, as he starred on some of the first teams that played under coach Sam Duane Jr. at Perry.
Jalen was a sophomore when Duane, already a legend in Arizona basketball coaching circles, took over the Perry basketball program in 2016 after winning four consecutive state championships at Tempe’s Corona Del Sol High School. Over the next three seasons, Perry continued to improve as Jalen became the Pumas’ best player, eventually making an all-region team and earning the district player of the year nod as a junior.
In 2019, his senior season, Jalen led Perry to a berth in the 6A Final Four. At the time, it was the program’s best playoff finish under Duane.
“Jalen set the standard here,” Duane said. “He got us to win here.”
Despite his success, Jalen was an overlooked three-star prospect coming out of high school. He eventually committed to Santa Clara, a mid-major from the West Coast Conference located in Northern California. While there, he grew – both literally and figuratively – into a 6-foot-6 guard who quickly shot up NBA draft boards this past season thanks to his shooting, playmaking and defensive ability.
“The thing about him is he continues working to get better,” Santa Clara coach Herb Sendek said. “He kept improving and improving.”
In a breakout 2021-22 campaign, Jalen Williams averaged 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists per game while shooting 51.3% from the field and 39.6% from 3-point range. With him as its leader, Santa Clara compiled a 21-12 record and finished third in the WCC standings behind NCAA tournament teams Gonzaga and Saint Mary’s.
Like Cody Williams, Duane was not surprised by what he saw from his former star.
“We all knew he could play,” Duane said. “When I see some of these (college) coaches around, I’m like, ‘I told you so’… It’s not surprising to me knowing Jalen and how he was in high school. It’s just been awesome to watch.”
Various mock drafts have Jalen getting selected anywhere from the 14th overall pick – which belongs to the Cleveland Cavaliers, whom he met with on Tuesday – to the 25th pick. Regardless of when he is picked, it will be a seminal moment for the entire Williams family as well as Duane, who Cody says is “like family.”
Duane has had the experience of watching a player he coached in high school get selected in the NBA draft multiple times before, most notably with Marvin Bagley, who was a freshman at Corona Del Sol during Duane’s final year there. Bagley was selected No. 2 overall by the Sacramento Kings in the 2018 NBA draft.
“There’s nothing like it,” Duane said. “I’m so excited for Jalen, and he’s done everything in his power to get there. So he’s put the work in and it’s just a great, great feeling to watch that. I can’t wait.”
While Jalen was busy boosting his resume for the next level, back in Arizona, his alma mater continued its ascension. On March 2, Perry won the 6A state boy’s basketball title, the first in school history, giving Duane his fifth championship ring. The star-studded Pumas were led by 7-foot senior forward Dylan Anderson, freshman phenom guard Koa Peat and, yes, junior point guard Cody Williams, who finished with a team-high 15 points in the title game.
“(Jalen) always told me he wanted me to win a ring since he never got to,” Cody said. “I kind of gloat a little bit, but mostly he was just really proud of me for getting it done.”
Although Anderson has departed for the University of Arizona as the crown jewel of coach Tommy Lloyd’s 2022 recruiting class, the Pumas figure to be a strong contender to repeat with Peat still just a sophomore and Cody Williams returning as a senior to orchestrate the offense. At the recent Section 7 tournament in Glendale, with Peat unavailable due to his commitments with Team USA Basketball, Williams got his first taste of being his team’s sole focal point.
“Cody did almost everything for us,” Duane said. “He handled the ball for us, made shots for us, scored for us, defended for us. But above all that he was a really, really good teammate for us and a good leader for us this weekend.”
Unlike last time, top college coaches are actually taking notice of the star Perry point guard named Williams. Arizona and UCLA both formally offered Cody on Monday, joining a plethora of other Power Five teams to do so.
But Cody is still in the early stages of his recruitment process once he gets back from attending the draft and celebrating with Jalen in New York City this weekend. Following the advice of his older brother, he plans to take it slow and prioritize the best fit for him over the biggest-named program. Even more than Jalen’s words, however, his journey to the NBA has left a lasting impression on his younger brother as Cody embarks on his own journey.
“It’s been really inspirational,” Cody said. “It’s just kind of helped me not worry about the (prospect) rankings and just put my head down and work. … People were ranked ahead of him or talked about more than him or had more publicity, but he just kept his head down and worked and now he’s passing those guys.”