'Team player': Jaylin Williams sacrifices to put No. 1 Auburn first - Auburn University Athletics (2024)

AUBURN, Ala. – While the other kids in his elementary school were playing tag and running relays, Jaylin Williams worked on his game.

“All his teachers said he always went to the playground by himself, went to the basketball goal and just played ball by himself,” recalled Jaylin’s mother, Shantel Williams. “They said, ‘He’s going to be something special on the basketball court.’

“I always knew Jaylin loved to play basketball. When he learned how to walk, he picked up that ball and was bouncing it.”

On Saturday mornings, the precocious left-hander dominated his recreation league.

“Other kids didn’t know exactly what they were doing, but Jaylin knew what he was doing right off the bat,” Shantel said.

Growing up in Nahunta, Georgia, between Savannah and Jacksonville, Florida, Jaylin became a two-time All-State standout at Brantley County High School.

“I always wanted to be in the SEC growing up,” he said.

Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl and assistants Steven Pearl and Wes Flanigan regularly attended Williams’ games.

“They were always with me at travel ball. They always stayed in contact with me,” Jaylin said. “And I loved that about Auburn. They really wanted me. I noticed that from the staff. That’s what made me come.”

Auburn’s location – a five-hour drive from home – also influenced Jaylin’s decision to join Pearl’s program. Shantel attends every weekend game, and some midweek games, sometimes driving over and back on game day.

“When I go there, I don’t stop,” she said. “I just keep going straight.”

“She loves me, she loves the players, she loves the coaches,” Jaylin said. “She shows love for everybody.”

An only child, Jaylin received additional guidance growing up from Shantel’s seven siblings, six aunts and an uncle.

“It’s always just been me and her,” he said. “Our bond was real tight. It was always just me, my mom and my family, my whole life.”

As an Auburn freshman in 2019-20, Williams came on strong late in the season, earning a starting position as a sophom*ore in 2020-21, when he averaged 10.9 points and 4.7 rebounds.

“Going from playing eight minutes to 26 minutes was a big jump for me,” he said. “During that summer I had to work harder to be able to be more productive on the court. From freshman year to now, I’m more confident and not so nervous. My confidence level has been on max.”

Jaylin’s junior season coincided with the arrival of freshman Jabari Smith, the highest rated prospect in program history. Knowing his playing time would decrease since he and Smith share a position, Williams could have transferred. He chose to stay.

“If I left, I didn’t feel like things would get much better for me,” Jaylin said. “Another team, I could be put in the same spot. Why not just understand what’s going on?”

As they have his whole life, Shantel’s words guided her son.

“Like my mom always taught, don’t run from something. Keep fighting for what you believe in,” Jaylin said. “If you love it here at Auburn, which I do, just keep fighting, just keep playing your role. Whatever your role is.”

“Jaylin loves Auburn,” Auburn coach Bruce Pearl said. “And he loves his experience at Auburn. He’s grown up at Auburn. He recognizes that this is a very special team that has a chance to win championships. Therefore, he’s been willing to make the sacrifice and come off the bench and play behind maybe the best player in college basketball. At the same time, he is preparing himself to be that player next season for us.”

“He’s going to recruit the best players he can possibly get,” Williams said. “I understood that and I knew with Jabari and Walker (Kessler) coming in, we could still be a great team. I could come off the bench, still be productive and help us win, no matter how long I’m on the court. As long as I do my part and we win, that’s all that matters.”

“I always knew he had a big heart, and he’s a team player,” Shantel said. “He just wants to win. Whatever is good for his team is good for him.”

The combination of Smith and Williams, says Pearl, gives Auburn the best power forward, or four position, in the country. Between them, they average 21.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game.

“I absolutely agree with that,” Jaylin said. “We can score at all different levels. We can guard one through five. We have the most confidence of anyone in the country.”

Bringing talented players off the bench while starters recharge has helped Auburn ascend to the No. 1 national ranking and first place in the SEC with a record of 22-2, 10-1.

“I believe that’s why we’re noticed as one of the best teams in the country,” Jaylin said. “We have a chance to do something more than any team has done here at Auburn.”

An aspiring coach, Jaylin Williams majors in kinesiology while playing an important role on his top-ranked team, all the while benefiting from – and returning – his mother’s love.

“She always wants what’s best for me,” he said. “She always pushed me to be the best I can be.”

“He’s blessed my life in so many ways,” Shantel said. “We both were a blessing to each other. I am extremely proud of him. Words can’t explain how proud I am of him.”

Jeff Shearer is a Senior Writer at AuburnTigers.com. Follow him on Twitter: @jeff_shearer

'Team player': Jaylin Williams sacrifices to put No. 1 Auburn first - Auburn University Athletics (2024)
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