Even though Ziaire Williams played sparingly in his rookie year, don’t think he will be sitting out for long. With Kyle Anderson on another team and Jaren Jackson Jr. injured to start the season, Williams has a legitimate shot to carve out a role with the Grizzlies.
The 6-foot-9 forward recently hosted a basketball camp at Pioneer Event Center in Lancaster, hosted by Williams alongside Impact Sports and Herbalife Nutrition. Williams and his father, Ziaire Williams Sr. hope to turn the event into an annual thing. In fact, Williams made it a condition for sponsors he signed with to pay for all the expenses for clinics like this and any future ones so that underprivileged kids had a chance to come out free of charge.
HoopsHype caught up with Williams to talk about giving back to his community, his upcoming role next season, and the bond he has formed with his up-and-coming team.
I was talking to your dad earlier, and he was telling me how you guys have talked about doing something like this since you were a lot younger. What does an event like this mean to you and your community?
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Ziaire Williams: Oh man, that’s been the goal from the jump. I wanted to give back to my community before I, thought I could be an NBA player. You know, it was always just no matter what I do in life, I just want to be happy, I’m going to have a good education, I want to get back to my city. You know, we don’t have a lot out here. There’s a lot of talented people, you know, they just don’t have the opportunity. So I’m just trying to just put a smile on people’s faces, just do whatever I can to help cheer up my community a little bit.
Palmdale native Paul George is really the only player that comes to mind when talking about this area. When you were younger, did you look up to him as a sort of role model?
ZW: To be honest, I didn’t even know about Paul George until he got to the NBA. But I love Paul George, I’m actually working out with him tomorrow. He’s been a real role model for me watching this game and he goes back to the city as well. You know, he has a whole court and parks out in Palmdale, two of them actually. That’s what it’s all about. You know, just try to just show the next generation that it is possible for your dreams to come true. You know we all came from the same city as them. We’re all human at the end of the day. I just want to let all the kids know that you can do anything you want in life, as long as you just work hard and have fun doing it.
The pandemic happened during your senior year in high school and your freshman year at Stanford. How tough was that to go through and what did you take out of that adversity?
ZW: Oh man, it was super tough. You know, we didn’t have a weight room, we didn’t have a basketball court to play in, we didn’t have a locker room. I didn’t even meet not one student on the Stanford campus. My whole plan at Stanford was to meet people and connect. Meet with the smartest individuals on the planet, you know, and how they say iron sharpens iron when it pushed me to meet people, and pushed myself to a higher standard.
The NBA was never a goal. Of course, it’s always what I wanted to do, but I honestly never really thought it would really happen. It was always just to get the best education. Get a free college [tuition] somewhere because I wasn’t going to be able to afford it. To go through all that adversity, it wasn’t necessarily something I wanted, but it was everything I needed just to be a grown man or a young man now and move on within myself and travel and be everywhere. Like it really prepared me for all the haters and all the extra that comes with the game. It prepared me for that because I know if I can make it through that time, I can make it through any other time in life, so it was definitely one of the lowest points in my life for sure. Just family involved, not even basketball-wise, but everything happens for a reason. So I’m just blessed to be in this position today.
Memphis showed a lot of faith in you, trading Jonas Valanciunas and the 17th pick to move up and draft you at 10th. What does that mean to you?
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ZW: Yeah, it meant a lot. Since Day One I had nothing but support, from the whole Memphis Grizzlies organization from the top, [Zach] Kleiman and [Elliot] Perry, all the way down to our film group and our teammates’ man. It’s just a big family over there. I love those guys to death. I was just talking to Tyus Jones this morning. We always communicate with each other and I’m just blessed to be a part of that organization, we have something special for sure.
After your first year in the league, what did you learn most about being a pro? What did you struggle with?
ZW: That’s a good question. I probably learned just how to manage my time, how to prioritize different things wisely. It’s a long season and I struggled with that in the beginning. Like in college and high school you just play one game, maybe two games a week and then you have a whole, few days to recover and prepare for the next game. This game is literally back-to-back-to-back and then you’re hopping on two, three-hour flights in between. It definitely got a little hectic for sure.
And I feel like I hit the rookie wall, I definitely hit that. Just in a mental slump, I got over it, and my teammates, they always say that they were in the same position as me. So it’s definitely normal. I mean, you’re not the only one doing it, so shout out to them for just always believing in me and Taylor [Jenkins] as well. Coach Taylor, that’s my guy, we got the same birthday. I feel like we related on a lot of different things together. I’m just blessed to be in this position.
Seeing teammates like Desmond Bane going from unknown to one of the best young players in the league, what have you seen from him behind the scenes that you hope to emulate?
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ZW: This dude is in the gym every day and I’m there with him doing every drill. He’s always beating me in shooting games. I might get him on a good day here and there. Phenomenal. That’s my guy. He always keeps it real. He comes from a great family. They’re super close and he just had a son this year and just to see him be a father now and see him love his son unconditionally is just super awesome to see. It’s crazy, it’s only his second year or last year, but he almost has a vet mentality. Just with his demeanor, the way he goes about his business, it’s definitely a person who I look up to and try to emulate and take notes from. I know even after basketball is over, me and Dez will be close friends forever, that’s my brother.
Seeing Kyle Anderson leave and Jaren Jackson Jr. out to start the season, you may have an opportunity for more minutes. How are you looking to capitalize on that?
ZW: Do whatever I need to do to help our team win. Whether that’s me right now on the court again, or being more involved in the offense with pick and rolls or off-screens or whatever the case is, whatever they need me to do, I’m gonna do it at 110 percent. And that’s my whole thing, you know? I just gotta play my role and try to perfect my craft and I know as I continue to get stronger and I get older and I start to mature and develop, sky will be the limit. Coaches believe in my ability as I believe in my ability, so I think it will be special.
Last season, a lot of your role was to help space the court, leak out in transition, and shoot open shots. Do you envision the team giving you the keys to do more ball-handling down the road?
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ZW: Yeah, for sure. I mean, that’s why I was playing the point guard all Summer League was for that reason – to be more comfortable with the ball. They definitely for sure [believe in me]. It’s all about player development. Continue to grow and learn about the game.
What other aspects of your game are you hoping to improve?
ZW: Everything. Literally everything. I feel like I’m blessed to be 6-9, 6-10. I have the athleticism and speed that you can’t teach. So I honestly feel like once I get stronger, there’s not anything I can’t do on court. Whether it be posting up or shooting threes or dribbling, passing, I want to be the best in everything. So it’s not just one thing I want to improve on.
Outside of Desmond Bane, who have you really learned the most from this past year?
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ZW: Everybody has their own different ways. Kyle Anderson, that was my guy. That one hurt when I found out he was leaving. That was like the first one that happened. De’Anthony Melton, that’s my brother. We were both on the West Coast together. We went to rival high schools.
Steven Adams, he was a great mentor for sure. Steven is actually very, very brilliant. This is his eighth and ninth year, I think? Just by talking about all the stories and his whole career and just little tips and my recovery stuff. I’ve been able to hold up pretty well for the most part, really because of Steven. He takes care of his body and is probably arguably the best for the team. So I definitely try to integrate his stuff and do whatever I can to stay on the court. Because at the end of the day. You could be the best in the world, but if you’re not healthy, it’s no point.
There’s really not one person I can single out and we’re all young, so we all help each other out and grow, but it’s literally everybody on the team for sure. Even like the rookies, Santi [Aldama] he’s coming from a whole different country. He spoke a whole different language. Like I learn stuff from him on how to adapt and grow and learn different things. We help each other out. We actually spent the summer in Spain training together and it was fun to kind of just go overseas. I put myself in his shoes like how he came over from the States and just get a different culture, just play basketball and meet different people. It was fun. Our chemistry is just unmatched for sure. I think it’ll really take us to hopefully win a championship one of these days.
Which players do you model your game after?
ZW: A lot of people say KD [Kevin Durant], ’cause I’m tall, and I could shoot. I feel like KD’s just KD though.
Maybe Paul George, but I don’t know, man. I love to just watch players. Maybe Jayson Tatum’s sidestep or Devin Booker‘s face-up game. Paul George‘s size up and just take all their stuff and putting it into my own. I’m my own player, we’re all our own players, but if I had to point out players it would probably be my own.