Jaylin Williams is playing (and shooting) like the star Bruce Pearl said he was
After dropping 21 points on Saturday night, the fourth-year senior forward ranks in the top 15 in the SEC in a *lot* of major stat categories.
PF Jaylin Williams (Zach Bland/Auburn Athletics)
Jaylin Williams doesn’t show much emotion.
On an Auburn basketball team that is known for the over-the-top enthusiasm of Dylan Cardwell and K.D. Johnson, the big man brand of smack talk from Johni Broome, and the confident swagger of Wendell Green Jr., you’re not going to get a lot of theatrics from the starting power forward.
He celebrates big-time buckets casually. Every now and then, you’ll get a fist pump or a nod to the crowd.
Williams has an even-keeled smoothness to his game that looks downright casual at times. He never gets too high or too low, whether he’s having an off night from the field or, say, scoring 21 points in a win over Mississippi State.
What got into you last Saturday night, Jaylin?
“I don’t know, for real,” Williams answered with a laugh.
That’s Jaylin Williams, the reluctant star.
Williams’ demeanor is so unassuming that it leads to him being underrated as a player. Not very many people remember how good he was in the final few games of his freshman season. Two years ago, when Auburn was fighting through a COVID season that featured long absences for 5-star point guard Sharife Cooper, Williams was arguably the best player on the team for the entire season.
Last season, Williams took a back seat to a pair of superstars, as Auburn added 5-star freshman forward Jabari Smith and 5-star transfer center Walker Kessler. Williams’ minutes were cut nearly in half upon the arrival of the two newcomers, who would become All-Americans and first-round picks in the NBA Draft.
Immediately after Auburn’s championship-winning season came to a close with an unceremonious second-round loss to Miami in the NCAA Tournament, Bruce Pearl said that he was looking forward to building the team around Williams.
“I expect Jaylin Williams to have a dominant role next year,” Pearl said a couple of weeks later. “And he is ready. He took one for the team this year, and he competed with Jabari, but Jabari was the best player on the floor every single night.”
Pearl hasn’t backed down on that stance, either. This season, Williams is averaging a team-high 26.5 minutes per game. And Pearl has gone out of his way to challenge Williams to push for more.
Go back to Auburn’s SEC opener against Florida. In the first half, Williams only had three points on just 1-5 from the field and committed three turnovers. In the second half, when the Tigers rallied from a deficit to pull off the victory, Williams had 10 points on 4-6 shooting and was a team-high +9 in plus/minus.
“Jaylin Williams, in my opinion, can be the best player on the floor,” Pearl said. “But he did not start the game that way. … Mentally, I need Jaylin Williams to start games and go, 'I'm as good as anybody out here' — and play like that. Take shots. Make plays.”
During Auburn’s three-game SEC winning streak, Williams has done just that.