‘We’ve got hoopers out there’: TyTy Washington, Jalen Williams show Arizona pride in NBA Summer League

(Video by Lauren Green/Cronkite News)

LAS VEGAS – After sinking the eventual game-winning shot to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in Saturday’s NBA Summer League matchup, TyTy Washington stood beaming in the tunnel of UNLV’s Thomas & Mack Center. But the Houston Rockets rookie guard was not discussing his clutch floater with under a minute remaining in the game.

Rather, he excitedly spoke about something he had not experienced in years: sharing the court with the Thunder’s Jalen Williams for the first time since high school. Both former Valley stars will enter their rookie seasons in the fall after Williams was picked 12th overall in the 2022 NBA Draft and Washington was selected 29th overall.

“Me and Jalen played each other when we were, like, babies,” Washington said. “Like 8, 9 years old, growing up through middle school and early high school and that was really it. … Just seeing us both out there on the biggest stage out there competing and having fun was really cool.”

Williams savored the experience, too.

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“It’s kind of rare, especially in Arizona, to be able to play (in the NBA) against somebody you grew up with,” Williams said. “I’ve known TyTy since we were like 6 years old.”

After those early high school years, Washington’s and Williams’ paths sharply diverged. Williams grew into the star of a Gilbert Perry High School basketball team on the rise, but he was undersized and lightly recruited before committing to play for former Arizona State coach Herb Sendek at Santa Clara University.

Washington, meanwhile, became a top statewide prospect at Caesar Chavez High School before transferring to national powerhouse AZ Compass Prep during his junior season. Although his time at Compass was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Washington still developed into a consensus five-star recruit who was offered by several top programs before committing to Kentucky in May of 2021.

But while Washington was solid in his only collegiate season, averaging 12.5 points and 3.9 assists per game, Williams enjoyed a breakout junior year at Santa Clara, averaging 18 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.2 assists. That not only caught the eye of NBA scouts, but also West Coast Conference opponents like then-Gonzaga star and new Thunder teammate Chet Holmgren.

“I already knew what he was capable of,” Holmgren said after Saturday’s game. “He’s a hell of a player. I knew what he was going to do when he came out here.”

While most focused on the anticipated matchup between the No. 2 and No. 3 picks of last month’s draft in Holmgren and the Rockets’ Jabari Smith, respectively, both former Arizona prep hoops stars deserved their own spotlight Saturday as well.

Williams led the Thunder in scoring with 15 points, making impressive off-ball cuts to set himself up for open layups and dunks on several assists from second-year point guard Josh Giddey. He also spent large portions of the game as Smith’s primary defender, limiting the former Auburn star to 12 points.

“(Jalen) had that big dunk in that second half that just really set the tone,” Giddey said. “(He was) getting to the rim, finishing a lot, brought the team’s energy up which was what we needed after a pretty sluggish first half.”

Washington scored nine points, including a three-pointer after fooling Williams on a pump-fake just before halftime, but none were more important than his game-winner with 27 seconds left in the fourth.

“He played fantastic,” Rockets summer league coach Rick Higgins said. “He does all the things that we’re trying to do to the best of his ability with every second that he’s on the court. He continues to do that, he’s going to be really good.”

Washington also relished the chance to tease his old friend a bit after the pump-fake three-pointer.

“He was running at me and I looked at him and I pump-faked and once I moved to the side I heard him scream, ‘That’s off!’” Washington said with a grin. “So after I made it, I looked right at him like, ‘Come on, Jalen, bro. You know I got this, man.’”

After the final buzzer sounded in the Rockets’ 90-88 victory, the two products of Arizona high school hoops embraced on the court, putting the trash talk aside to bask in the surreal reality of competing against each other once again – this time on an NBA stage.

“You go from playing against each other in AAU games when there’s nobody in the gym to now summer league, and you got Dame (Lillard) and Kyrie (Irving) in attendance,” Williams said. “It was just a cool moment.”

Washington and Williams were not the only players on the court Saturday with Valley ties. Former ASU guard Josh Christopher had a game-high 19 points for the Rockets. Washington and Christipher also excelled to combine for 24 points in Houston’s 97-84 win over the San Antonio Spurs Monday. Washington hopes that similar moments are shared by more Arizona local products in the future.

“It means a huge deal,” Washington said. “I feel like Arizona is definitely slept on but this year we had six people that went to high school in Arizona get drafted. It was just showing like, Arizona, we’re not no bummy state. We’ve got a few hoopers out there, so it’s just really cool to see two Arizona kids battling here today.”

Broadcast Producer, Phoenix

Austin Green expects to graduate in August 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Green has interned for NBC Los Angeles and was a graduate assistant at the Donald W. Reynolds National Center for Business Journalism at ASU.

Lauren Green(she/her/hers)
Sports Broadcast Reporter, Phoenix

Lauren Green expects to graduate in August 2022 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Green earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno where she ran track.