Watching Jay Williams address the completely enrapt New Hampton Prep basketball team late Sunday night at the Hoophall Classic, it was clear he was firmly in his element. Basketball has obviously always been a big part of Williams’ life, but you could make a case he’s never been quite as immersed as he is now.
As an ESPN college basketball analyst, Williams splits his time between calling games and working on studio shows, while also commentating for the network’s rapidly expanding interest in high school ball. The latter assignment gives him the opportunity to take part in one of his favorite pastimes: mentoring young athletes. There isn’t a player on any level that doesn’t have the utmost respect for the former No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, and he commonly takes time to pull players aside and offer a few words of wisdom.
Away from the court, Williams’ passion for giving back manifests itself in his charitable endeavors, which are focused on providing a positive influence for youngsters who lack a reliable support system.
“Everything’s going great with that,” said Williams. “I’m still very much involved with my charity, Rising Stars. I’m spending a lot of time trying to create after-school programs in the boroughs, shadowing and mentoring programs, and trying to be impactful on young kids’ lives.”
We caught up with Williams at halftime of Bishop Gorman’s win over Dematha on Monday to discuss his thoughts on Hoophall, which college teams most impress him, the advice he gives to up-and-coming players and his recent move to Miami.
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Dime: What players have impressed you so far at Hoophall?
Jay Williams: Shabazz Muhammad is on a different level. I love his ability to attack the rim, and something I’ve seen that’s a huge improvement from last year is his jump shot. When he’s able to extend you defensively with his ability to shoot the ball, you’re like Play-Doh in his hands. He can shoot, he can drive, he has a post-up game, and he’s a hell of a slasher.
I’m excited to see Jabari Parker later on today. Kaleb Tarczewski, he played extremely well. Brewster Academy’s Jakarr Sampson, he’s so athletic with some of the things he was doing in warmups the other day. I was very disappointed he wasn’t in the dunk contest last night. Some school’s going to be lucky, given that he decommitted from St. John’s.
Dime: How does covering high school games help you with working on college basketball?
JW: It helps a lot. The more you do high school basketball, the more you can talk during a game about what a coach has coming in next year and some of the voids they need to fill, and the things they need to work on as a team.
But another one of the things I love about high school basketball is these players are still so raw. For a guy like Shabazz Muhammad, on the collegiate level, just watching him play a couple times, I know in a scouting report I’m sending him right every single time. And every time he jumps and he finishes at the rim, I’m just going to overwhelm the left side of his body and make him finish with his right hand. I’ve still yet to see him do that. But when you get to the collegiate level, every game is televised, everybody’s writing about it, NBA scouts are talking about you and everyone is breaking down your strengths and weaknesses. So he’s able to take advantage of the fact that all these players don’t get the chance to watch each other play that much.
Dime: In terms of college, what schools have impressed you the most?
JW: Of course, you have to talk about Syracuse. They’re the deepest team in the country, and they’ve had a couple of close games, like against Marquette, but they’ve been able to push through. The person that’s made the biggest emergence to me is Dion Waiters. He’s like a Jason Terry coming off the bench. Everybody knows he should start, but he’s averaging 13 points, and playing the game with the moxie that he possesses lets you know about the character of the young man.
I think a team like Kentucky, they still haven’t had Terrence Jones at his best. And Michael Kidd-Gilchrist has been doing his thing. He doesn’t have the prettiest shot in the world, but he just finds a way to score and get things done. Anthony Davis, he does a great job. Marquis Teague has his ups and downs as a freshman point guard, but they’re a really deep team.
And I’m so glad Tom Crean and Indiana Basketball are back. Watching guys like Victor Oladipo and Cody Zeller, who’s kind of their pillar, they’re a heck of a basketball team as well.
Dime: What did you make of North Carolina’s loss the other day? Was that a bump in the road, or something more?
JW: I think it’s a bump in the road. All top teams struggle when they go into Tallahassee. If you remember, when UNC played there last year, Harrison Barnes made a three at the end (for a 72-70 win). Regardless of whether Florida State loses to Harvard or Princeton, when Carolina comes to town, they take it to a different level. Also, they’re the top defensive team in the country; they’re holding their opponents to 36 percent from the floor. Deividas Dulkys suddenly scores 32 points â€“ he scored more points in that game than in his past nine games. UNC is going to take everybody’s best shot.
Dime: How about your alma mater? What does Duke have to do to get to where they need to be?
JW: I think they’re still developing a certain element of toughness, still trying to find out what their strengths are. The interesting thing for them is they’re still trying to figure out how to play perimeter defense. They haven’t been able to extend as much as they used to, like last year when they had Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith, those quick guards that can play the passing lanes. Now with Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins, they play more of a containment style defense. Austin Rivers is still working on his shot selection; he’s a very competitive guy, he can get lost in a one-on-one battle at times. They need Mason and Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly to step up down low. Also, Mason Plumlee needs to make some free throws!
Dime: Rutgers, obviously, is very close to where you grew up â€“ what do you think about their progress this year?
JW: First off, when I go back home and spend time with my dad, I love getting involved in conversations around our neighborhood about who the best team is… in New Jersey! We haven’t had a conversation like that really ever, since I was growing up there. So now, who’s the best point guard, Rutgers’ Myles Mack or Seton Hall’s Jordan Theodore? Herb Pope is doing his thing down low with Fuquan Edwin, Seton Hall is having a fantastic year, and it’s great we can finally have that debate. And Mike Rice has done an exquisite job with Rutgers, beating Florida and UConn, they’re playing really good basketball.
Dime: What’s the most common thing you tell young players?
JW: Something you have to get them to understand, all these young kids, is the importance of education. All the top tier guys who are planning to play in the NBA, you have to get them to start looking at this whole thing as a business. You get to a certain point where hopefully you can be in a situation where you can make a lot of money. And you have to run your own company as if you’re your own CEO.
Everyone wants to be the first pick in the draft, and I love asking kids, ‘How much money are you slated to make? What percentage are you going to pay your agent? How are you going to set up your taxes? Did you know you get taxed in every city you play in? What kind of retainer are you going to put your accountant on? How are you going to funnel your money? Do you know about gift taxes?’ And kids look at you in amazement like, ‘I had no idea.’ You really need to start looking into things like that, because if you’re blessed enough to get to that level, that’s your business.
You have to capitalize on the time you have, because the average life span in the NBA is what, four or five years? If I can get that across, I can make a difference.
Dime: You recently moved down to Miami. How’s life down there?
JW: Life is great. I have to tell you, the other day, I woke up around 7:30 and I went outside to the beach and I sat at this cafÃ©. I was having some cafÃ© con leche. I was reading the box scores of the games the night before and I said, ‘How could this get any better?’ My job is to watch sports, I was at South Beach taking in all the sights, it’s 80 degrees outside in January… I’m living a dream.
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