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 percent from the field. Williams set Arkansas’ single-season record for total rebounds (364), and he led the nation in charges shot (54) last season.

While the immediate backlash centered on Oklahoma City drafting both Jaylin Williams and Jalen Williams (a Santa Clara guard who went on to become No. 12), the pick also marked the first time a player of Vietnamese origin was drafted by an NBA. crew.

Basketball News caught up with Williams to discuss his game, his form in Oklahoma City, the Thunder’s young core, teaming up with Jalen Williams, making history and more.

How was your draft experience? Did the evening go as planned or were there any 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 about 90 people but because the word got out and because I have so much family we ended up having almost 200 people there But just having my whole family with me and sharing this experience with them is something I will never let go of. I wouldn’t wish for anything else – it was the best thing that could have happened .

How did you react to the call of your name? Have you become emotional?

williams: “My agent called me a little before [they announced the pick] and said to me, ‘Hey, you’re next. They’ll take you with that pickaxe. I tried to hold back the emotion, so I could just hear it and so everyone wouldn’t go crazy. But I heard my name called, and it was crazy. It was just unreal. Some kind of mind-blowing thing. It’s something you dream of all your life – you dream of this moment and what it will be like to hear your name being called 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 siblings. It was crazy for me.”

How do you feel about your fit with the Thunder’s young core?

williams“I feel good, honestly. It’s a young team, and I’m ready to come in and work. I’m willing to do things few people are willing to do. Whatever the team needs me to do, I’m going to do it – whether it’s diving to the ground for loose balls, or taking charges, or throwing it, passing a shot to give the ball to a teammate, and just things like that. I’m ready to do all those messy little things, and I’m ready to be a glue guy.

What was your first impression of Oklahoma City when you got 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 me so much love and everyone was already so welcoming – coming up to me and congratulating me and saying they were really glad I was there. Honestly, it was so great sharing that time with the other recruits and meeting the staff and talking to everyone there. It was great.”

How does your sister react? She must be happy to have you at OKC.

williams“She’s excited, that’s for sure. In fact, she doesn’t live too far from the facility, and my nephew and niece live there too. My nephew is a basketball player and I’m really happy to have been chosen there because I think it will give my nephew a little more motivation.

I love that you and Jalen Williams ended up on the same team, and I think it’s hilarious that you recreated the Spider-Man meme.

williams“We were talking about it a bit and then when we both got drafted that night, we were tagged in a bunch of messages like, ‘Jalen Williams and Jaylin Williams!’ Then when we saw each other, we talked about it a bit and we clarified what we’re going to call each other and what we want everyone to call us so that they don’t mix (Jalen is J- Dub and Jaylin is J-Will) We put on our swimsuits and they were taking pictures and we were like, ‘Let’s go! This is fun, let’s have fun! [Recreating the Spider-Man meme] was a fun thing to do.

You also got mixed up during the pre-draft process, so this isn’t new to you. This was happening before you were even on the same team, wasn’t it?

williams: “Yeah. Even before [the pre-draft
process], I was getting tagged in his highlights and he told me he was getting tagged in mine, so there were a lot of times we saw each other. Then, at the Combine, we would always meet in the same room and people would talk to us like, ‘What’s your name?’ And I would say, ‘Jaylin Williams.’ And they were like, ‘Okay, are you Jaylin with a Y or Jalen with an E?’ We’d always meet in the same room and I’d be like, ‘What’s up, mate? Get out of the room! We can’t be in the same room at the same time!’ So, it’s really funny that we ended up in the same place.

You are the first player of Vietnamese origin to be drafted in NBA history. What does it mean for you to chart this course?

williams“Honestly, it’s amazing. I didn’t know I was going to be first until a few weeks before the draft. It’s frankly crazy, with the length of existence of the NBA and its size there. Just the love I received from Vietnam and the people who support me in this region, it’s crazy.

What is your message for Thunder fans ahead of next season?

williams“I want them to know that I’m ready to do whatever I have to do for the team. If I play a few minutes or if I only play a few minutes or even if I don’t play at all, I will be the best in any role, even if it’s just on the bench and shouting for my teammates and dancing after three. I’m going to be the best whatever role I have. I’m going to be that guy who does whatever the team needs.

Some rookies are drafted by a veteran team that doesn’t have many other young players; instead, they are surrounded by older players. With the Thunder, most of your teammates are 23 or younger. Is it nice to join a team with so many other young players who can relate to you and who are at a similar stage in their life?

williams“Yeah, that’s cool, that’s for sure, just knowing that I’m going with a lot of guys and we’re all learning together. I know there are older guys and I’m probably one of the younger guys on the team, but we’re all going to learn together. But I’m going to respect these guys like they’re veterans. I have to go out there and be willing to learn from them, and I’m going to gather as much information as I can from all these guys.

You will play with Chet Holmgren in the future. What do you think of his game and the opportunity to team up with the second overall pick?

williams“Chet is a great player. He’s a once-in-a-lifetime type of player, and I’m thrilled to play with him. I’m happy to help him grow and I’m happy he’s helping me grow as a player. I’m really excited to share the field with him, especially after we had such a great battle in March Madness. I’m glad we’re both improving.

(Editor’s note: Arkansas eliminated Gonzaga, 74-68, in the Sweet Sixteen. Williams had 15 points, 12 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. Holmgren had 11 points, 14 rebounds and 2 blocks.)

During the pre-draft process, some pundits compared you to fellow Arkansas alumnus Bobby Portis. Have you talked to Bobby and got any advice from him?

williams“I talked to him a bit throughout this process. He gave me some tips on how to get there and said good luck and said I’ll see him. Then I saw him at the Combine and we tamed him, and he just said, ‘Good luck bro!’ He was very helpful throughout this case and was very supportive.

What do you think of this comparison? Do you think that’s correct?

williams“I can see the similarities, for sure. He came into the league as a guy who plays hard and scores in the position, and then his game grew. For this Milwaukee team, he’s their energy, he’s a scammer [helps] their rebound, he plays his role – and he’s excellent at his role. I can definitely see the similarities.

Which players have you studied or modeled your game on?

williams: “I watch a bit of everything with basketball. I try to watch a lot of Draymond Green. I try to watch a lot of Nikola Jokic. I watch a lot of Bam
[Adebayo]. Al Horford is a guy I watch a lot, how well he plays for the team and is great in his role. I just watch the way they do things. Like Draymond with his defense. Bam with the way he runs in sets. Jokic with how he can go from being a big man. I try to watch different things from different guys.

I’ve spoken to NBA veterans who say they’re so glad they never have to go through the pre-draft process again because it’s exhausting. That’s a ton of travel and intense workouts. What was it like going through this process?

williams: “It was just a lot of travel and a lot of uncertainty. That’s probably one of the hardest parts about it, not knowing where you’re going to end up, not knowing where you’re going to get drafted and not not knowing what’s going to happen. It’s one of the hardest things about it, and it’s honestly a very stressful time. But for me, it’s something I’ve dreamed about and it feels part of the process. When I see my goal so close to me, I’ll do whatever it takes, so it wasn’t that bad, honestly.