She's only in seventh grade and ranked as one of the best basketball players in the country
When Jada Williams was 5, she played in her first basketball game at the local YMCA. From the opening minutes, it was clear she was the best on the floor, so dominant that at the conclusion of the game, the league director kicked her out of the league.
Williams hadn’t really done anything wrong, he explained — other than break a rule prohibiting players to steal the ball from an opponent — but it was simply unfair for the other girls. So he passed along the information for a different league, one he thought might better fit Williams’ talent. It was a boys league.
That was perhaps the first sign. The first real indication that Williams might have a future with the sport. In recent weeks, they have been more obvious. Williams has received Division I scholarship offers from Illinois and Syracuse and interest from nearly a dozen more schools, including Kansas, Missouri and Kansas State.
She just turned 13. A seventh-grader at Brittany Hill Middle School in Blue Springs.
“She’s a remarkable talent, and when you see her, she has that ‘wow’ factor,” said Marcus Walker, a former O’Hara High School and Nebraska standout who trains Williams. “When I first met her, she was a fifth-grader, and you could already tell she had something. You just don’t see players like this every day.”
Williams, who will attend Blue Springs High School, practices daily, either with personal trainers or with her AAU team, the Missouri Phenom. It was with the latter in which she was spotted by college coaches last month, while playing in an AAU tournament in Virginia. The offers from Syracuse and Illinois followed shortly thereafter. Williams, a 5-6 point guard, has also taken unofficial visits to Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State and Nebraska, her mom says.
Earlier in the spring, she was selected to the Elite Girls Basketball All-American Game, an invite extended to only 50 girls in her class. She will represent Team USA at the Border Games in Canada next week, playing on the ninth-grade team. The summer schedule will also include stops in Chicago, Atlanta, Memphis and Louisville.
A quick highlight video justifies the interest. In a reel she posted to her Twitter and Instagram accounts, the clip begins with an ankle-breaking crossover. It transitions to a half-court shot, a underhanded scoop layup and a couple of three-pointers.
And on it goes.
Her game was molded at an early age. She joined that boys team in the first grade, and for six years, each time she walks to the recreation center, she plays with a group of high school boys.
“If they know me, they try to block my shot, steal the ball, whatever,” Williams said. “Usually if they haven’t seen me play, though, they try to lay back and take it easy on me. But the guys on the team are like ‘What are you doing? Guard her.’”
The recruitment is unlikely to wane anytime soon, but Williams isn’t in a rush. She doesn’t plan to make a college decision for three or four years, if not longer. Time, after all, is on her side.
In the meantime, she is still fine-tuning her game. She practices at 6:30 a.m. daily and often again in the evenings. It’s all by her own volition, her mom, Jill McIntyre, says.
“I worried early on that she was going to burn out, but you can see the stars in her eyes when she’s playing basketball,” McIntyre said. “If I ever hear her complaining about it, I’ll certainly back off. But the way I look at it is she’s hungry and begging to play every day.”
McIntyre knew this was coming. When her daughter was 2, she was dribbling a miniature basketball around the house. When she was 10, she would literally fall asleep cradling a basketball in her hands.
As Williams waits at her bus stop, she dribbles a ball. Her idea of entertainment is logging into the computer, pulling up YouTube videos and watching some of the top women’s players in the game.
“I just love the game and I want to play every day,” Williams said. “I wanna get to the next level — a Division I school and then hopefully play in the WNBA. Getting (the offers), it kind of tells me what I’m doing is paying off, and that makes me want to get in the gym and get better.”