Growing up in Philadelphia and being tall is a recipe for everyone telling you what you should do: play basketball. And that is exactly what Saint Joseph’s junior Jai Williams’ reality was growing up in the city of Philadelphia.
“If you’re tall in Philadelphia, people just assume you play basketball, or they try to push you to play basketball,” the six-foot-nine forward said.
“Growing up in Philly, the basketball culture is a tough one,” Williams said. “It all starts playing street ball and playing with older guys from the neighborhood. Being from Philly and playing basketball, we are instilled with toughness, having a big heart, and not backing down from anything.”
But Williams didn’t always take basketball as a serious venture. It wasn’t until eighth grade when he played on his first team that his love for the game grew. Before that, it was just pickup and street ball for the towering big man.
People would constantly remark to him “You’re tall, you should play basketball,” as if Williams didn’t know that already. Luckily, playing in eighth grade helped Williams become even more passionate about basketball.
He wasn’t always sure where he would end up or even if he was going to play basketball in college. Sophomore year, he started getting calls from programs about continuing to play basketball.
“In high school, I didn’t know what my future what was going to be like,” Williams said. “My sophomore year I started getting calls and the summer from junior to senior year that’s when I made the decision to come here.”
But SJU provided more to Williams than just basketball.
“It’s close to home and when I came to visit, I liked the academic side.” Williams said. “It’s easier for my mom to come up here and watch.”
After college, Williams wants to do something in the field of communications, which is his major.
“A lot of people talk down on the field of communications and say you can’t really make a lot of money,” Williams said. “But communication is in everything.”
Williams isn’t sure on the specifics, but he “definitely wants to stay in basketball,” maybe working for a news station, in sports journalism, or as a sports commentator.
Being a fourth-year junior, Williams redshirted his freshman year, meaning he brings plenty of experience to the team. After all, he was a part of two Atlantic 10 championship teams in 2014 and 2016.
“I feel like me being an older guy, I need to be a leader and be vocal off the court and do the small things for my team to get better,” Williams said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys and sometimes guys like to play around in practice and joke around.” Williams likes to remind them “when to cut it out and be focused on winning games.”
The team is improving every day, according to Williams, but is still a bit away from contending for another A-10 championship.
“We are getting better every day, but need to continue working on defense,” Williams said. “I feel like if we can get zoned in and get better at defense, then we can have some opportunity to put more points on the board.”
But when Williams isn’t worrying about making the SJU team more focused, you might not see the big man on campus.
“I’m a big sleeper,” Williams said. “During the week it’s so stressful with class, study hall, practice, and lifts, so on my own time I just like to chill, sleep, or watch television. It’s just over when I hit that bed.”