Wowed by Jalen Williams’ meteoric rise in OKC? Check out his brother, Cody

Wowed by Jalen Williams’ meteoric rise in OKC? Check out his brother, Cody

He might be the No. 1 pick in the 2024 NBA Draft, but Cody Williams said he was following his brother's lead long before he became a rising Thunder star.

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

| Mar 14, 2024, 12:00pm CDT

Jenni Carlson

By Jenni Carlson

Mar 14, 2024, 12:00pm CDT

Cody Williams marveled as he watched the video sent by his older brother.

On it, his brother was talking and joking with LeBron James.

“I watched this man on TV growing up,” Williams remembers thinking about LeBron. “He was like this untouchable figure. … Almost like he’s not human because of his status, how much of an elite basketball player he is.

“And then the next thing I know, my brother is playing against him in a game and they’re chopping it up.”

Just about everything Jalen Williams has done over the past year or so has opened eyes and dropped jaws. Becoming one of the Thunder’s big three. Finishing second in the NBA Rookie of the Year voting. Emerging as a future All-Star and maybe more.

But none of that impressed his younger brother quite like that LeBron video.

“He’s made it,” Cody Williams remembers thinking. “He’s there.”

And soon, he hopes to join Jalen there.

Cody Williams is a freshman at Colorado, and while the rangy, powerful 6-foot-8 forward has missed 13 games with injury this season and is averaging only 13.7 points a game, he has skyrocketed up the NBA mock drafts. Everyone has him as a lottery pick, but going top five in this summer’s draft seems increasingly likely. 

A few mocks have even had Cody Williams as the No. 1 overall pick.

“The craziest part is how fast it’s happening,” Jalen Williams said after a recent Thunder practice as he lounged in a chair just off the court. “He’s already kind of ready to make that next jump. I’m excited for him.”

To be clear, Cody Williams hasn’t made anything official. No early-entry declarations. No future-plan pronouncements.

He is making a return to action Thursday night in the Pac-12 Tournament. He has missed Colorado’s last four games with an ankle injury, and with the Buffs fighting for an NCAA Tournament bid — as of Wednesday morning, ESPN’s Joe Lunardi had them among his last four in — Williams’ return couldn’t have come at a better time.

Still, it only seems a matter of time before he joins his brother in the NBA.

Two brothers. Two meteoric rises. Both at the same time.

“It’s still surreal to both of us,” Cody told Sellout Crowd in a telephone interview.

But both say it isn’t shocking.

This was always the goal.

Copying ‘everything he did’ 

Cody Williams knew his big brother wanted to be a basketball player since he was little. Jalen didn’t play any other sports. He had no interest in them. He had found what he loved, so why mess with anything else? 

He was all in on basketball.

And because Jalen was, Cody was.

“I kind of just copied everything he did,” Cody said. 

Jalen is three and a half years older than Cody, but because of how their birthdays fell — Jalen, April 14, 2001, and Cody, November 20, 2004 — they were four years apart in school. That meant they were never in middle school or high school together. They never played basketball together.

But growing up in Arizona, they practiced together. 

Because Jalen was a few years ahead of Cody, big brother gave little brother a glimpse at what he’d need to do in the future. How much he’d need to work. How dedicated he’d need to be.

“When you’re younger, you don’t really have the grasp of the habits and the importance of habits,” Cody said. “You do them. You know you’re supposed to do them, but you don’t really … understand how important they are.”

Jalen showed him by shooting before practice, then practicing, then shooting again after practice. Cody didn’t just observe either. He started doing what Jalen was doing because wasn’t that what every basketball player did?

“All that stuff just became second nature to me,” Cody said, “so I think I’m really fortunate in the fact that he was able to set that example for me and I could develop those habits when I was 7, 8 without even knowing it. 

“It’s just a part of me and always will be just because he set that foundation for me so early.”

In those early days, the brothers didn’t play a ton of one-on-one. The age difference made for a size and skill discrepancy that heavily favored Jalen, so he did everything he could to help Cody get better.

Little brother, however, wasn’t always receptive to big brother. Jalen remembers times he’d give tips and pointers to Cody, who’d push back. The brothers would butt heads, then head to the court.

“And I would do what I was talking about,” Jalen said with a laugh, “and then, he’d be pretty receptive.”

Even after Jalen left home for college at Santa Clara, he wasn’t finished teaching Cody valuable basketball lessons. Jalen didn’t start right away; that was tough. He had his freshman season abruptly cut short by COVID; that was difficult.

But Jalen just kept putting his head down and getting to work.

Cody took notice.

“Just watching him go through that and realizing that it’s OK to develop, you’re not supposed to be the best, at your peak when you’re a freshman in college or a freshman in high school,” Cody said, “just realizing that it’s OK to develop and go through these trials and tribulations … it was huge for me just watching him.”

By the time Jalen decided to leave Santa Clara early for the NBA, he was a two-time all-conference first-teamer and a lottery pick by the Thunder.

It was around the same time that Cody began to emerge as one of the best high school players in the country. He was a McDonald’s All-American, a Naismith All-American and a five-star recruit. 

On3 ranked him the top player in the 2023 recruiting class.

But even before Cody earned those accolades, Jalen realized his brother was on a path to success. Jalen had seen the talent and skill, the dedication and work — then Cody hit a growth spurt his freshman and sophomore years of high school.

“He grew way earlier than I did,” Jalen said. “I grew in college.”

Well, Jalen also sprouted up five inches over his last three years of high school, but he was still only 6-3 or so. He grew a couple more inches to his current height of 6-5 when he was at Santa Clara.

Cody was already that tall as a high school sophomore.

“That’s when I was like, ‘Oh, there it is. We’re not gonna guess about his height,’” Jalen said. “That’s usually a pretty determining factor. … Once he got there, I was like, ‘He has all the intangibles and stuff like that,’ so it wasn’t really a shock.

“It’s a shock now because it happened really fast.”

The same could be said of both brothers’ meteoric rise over this past year. 

They’ve been on a rocketship ride the likes of which neither anticipated. (Read more below)

Will the Brothers Williams ever unite on the court?

There are no short FaceTime calls between the Brothers Williams these days.

“If I FaceTime my brother,” Jalen said, “we’ll be on the phone four or five hours.”

Sometimes, they won’t even talk basketball, but nothing is off-limits.

Is there any advice?

“Nah,” Jalen said, “he doesn’t give me advice.”

He smiled and chuckled.

Wisenheimer.

“I do watch his games, but honestly, I try not to say anything too much,” Jalen said. “You know, he’s trying to figure it out, and I think that’s the beauty of it. I don’t  want to tell him how to do everything and make it seem like I have everything figured out.”

You don’t?

“No.”

Sure looks like it.

“No. With life and basketball, I try to let him do his own thing. … I’ll send him some stuff I see, but a lot of it, I just let him figure it out. He’s really talented, so it’s quick, and I think when he’s able to figure it out without me telling him anything or trying to give advice, I feel like that helps him and his progression.”

Still, the brothers admit they’ve had some pinch-me moments over the past year. Seeing Jalen on the court with the Thunder, for example, Cody can’t help but think about growing up together under the same roof.

“So, I see he’s just a goofy (guy), basically just a big kid,” Cody said.

But …

“He’s out here just thriving in the NBA. … On the other hand, I also expect nothing less. I always saw him playing in the NBA when we were younger. I don’t know why, but just seeing him work out, being in the gym with him, I’ve always just looked at him and thought he’d be an NBA player.”

Back when the brothers were little, they used to lament how they never got to be on the same team and play together. Because of their age difference, they never even got to play against each other.

“The only way we’ll play on the same team or play against each other is when we’re in the NBA,” they’d joke.

Now, that’s no joke.

Maybe it will be next season. Perhaps the season after. But soon enough, the Williams brothers will become the 14th pair of brothers to play together in the NBA. It’s something they haven’t given a ton of thought since they’ve got more pressing matters, such as Jalen and the Thunder trying to win the Western Conference and Cody and Colorado trying to lock down a ticket to March Madness.

“But when I think about it,” Cody said of both brothers being in the league, “I definitely get a little giddy. It’s just insane that we could be blessed enough to be put in a position like that.”

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Jenni Carlson is a columnist with the Sellout Crowd network. Follow her on Twitter at @JenniCarlson_OK. Email [email protected].

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