I’m afraid we’ve seen the last of Jaylin Williams in an Arkansas uniform.
To be clear: I don’t really know anything. I don’t have any well-placed sources in pro basketball circles and I don’t really do reporting anymore. Years ago, I happily left the serious work of journalism to the serious people, and now (somehow,) I just get to spout off about things I think and feel.
And what I’m thinking lately is that the heart and soul of last year’s Razorback team is headed for the NBA. What I feel is that we’re going to be just fine.
We’ll get confirmation of Williams’ plans – one way or another – in a matter of days. The deadline for early entrants to withdraw from the NBA draft is June 1, but it looks like our guy has done what he needed to do — despite lackluster athletic measurables — to secure a spot in the NBA.
And as much as I’d love to have him for another season, this is not a bad thing for Arkansas basketball.
That realization landed on me about a week ago. Last Thursday, Williams turned in a strong scrimmage performance at the NBA combine, showing the relentless motor and court vision we know well, an ever-improving jump shot, and, of course, taking a charge. That performance turned many heads and led to speculation that the Fort Smith native would be rising rapidly on draft boards.
That was still fresh on my mind 24 hours later when Moses Moody unexpectedly appeared on my television.
Moody, who led the Hogs in scoring as a freshman in 2020-21, had played well, but sparingly, during his rookie season with the Golden State Warriors, one of the NBA’s preeminent franchises. Then last Friday, the 19-year-old earned his first meaningful minutes of the playoffs, staying on the court with the starters deep into the fourth quarter in the Western Conference finals and holding his own with some of the best players in the world. Since then, he’s maintained his place in the rotation, playing more minutes in a semifinal series than any teenager in league history other than Kobe Bryant.
He didn’t do anything especially flashy, but he also didn’t make many mistakes, playing his role rock solid. This, I thought, is something Jaylin can also do. Because aside from their Arkansas roots, Moody and Williams also share in common an intelligence on the court, a team-oriented approach to the game and a work ethic that refuses to go unnoticed.
“They have to do a documentary on how he approaches this season,” Stephen Curry said of Moody. “The behind the scenes of how he works, the game speed, the consistent effort every day, not knowing if he is going to play the next day. Going back and forth in the G League, all that stuff, you know it’s going to pay off because his number is going to be called… Then, you get it in a situation where he’s thrown into the Western Conference finals and makes a big difference and plays extremely well. He seems very composed.”
Earlier this year, Golden State coach Steve Kerr also praised coach Eric Musselman and the Arkansas program for helping mold Moody into a player with “an advanced feel for the game.”
If some NBA superstar and his coach are saying the same about Jaylin Williams a year from now, I don’t think many of us are going to be the least bit surprised.
Moody came to Arkansas as the 46th-ranked prospect in his high school class. He left as the 14th pick in the draft. Williams came to Arkansas as the 88th-ranked prospect in the same high school class, and now it appears he could be the second straight Razorback whose draft position exceeded their already-high recruiting ranking.
If you’re looking to bolster your reputation with NBA executives, sending them Moody and Williams in back-to-back years is a pretty good way to do it. And if you’re looking to attract the attention of the nation’s best recruits, it’s hard to imagine a better way than showing them a well-established, trusted pipeline to the pros.
Which leads us to the very real possibility of an unprecedented virtuous cycle for the Arkansas program — we get good players; NBA teams see that Musselman gets them ready and makes them better; those players get drafted higher than expected, which, in turn, helps Musselman land even more and better players. Rinse, repeat.
We’re already seeing the results both going out and coming in. Moody is headed for the NBA Finals, Williams’ stock is on the rise and the Hogs are sitting on what’s likely the most talented roster we’ve had in decades.
Make no mistake, Arkansas would be better next year if Williams decided to return. He was the leading rebounder and emotional centerpiece of last year’s team, and his emergence as an offensive threat coincided with the Hogs’ midseason turnaround that eventually led to a No. 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament and second straight trip to the Elite Eight. If he’s on the roster in 2022-23, the Hogs will likely open the season at or near the top of the national polls.
But just as Williams is equipped to do well on his own, I think we’ll be just fine without him. Musselman has spent the offseason preparing for this eventuality, plucking four skilled and athletic post players from the transfer portal to supplement a recruiting class loaded with arguably the most backcourt and wing talent in the country.
And Williams’ departure from campus doesn’t have to mean the end of his contributions to the program he’ll eventually leave behind.
Just as Moody is, to Arkansas fans he’ll always be a symbol of our renaissance, his place in our history well-secured. To the professional level, he’ll be our representative – the kind of player we aspire to attract, create and develop. And to future players, he’ll be an example. You don’t have to be the quickest, jump the highest or shoot the lights out. If you’re willing to play with passion, do whatever the game demand, and set your feet in front of an oncoming 250-pound power forward, we’ll love you for it – and the NBA might, too.
Arkansas native Brent Holloway is a freelance writer living in Gainesville, Ga. His “4th and 25” appears every other Friday at ARMoneyandPolitics.com.