College men’s basketball: Quite a comeback for Claflin’s Jailen Williams

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 12, 2023

By Mike London

ORANGEBURG, S.C. — Those CIAA road trips are tough.

The Claflin Panthers, hailing from Orangeburg, S.C., traveled 340 miles to Richmond to play Virginia Union on Jan. 5.

Their journey continued north to Bowie State (Md.) last Saturday and finally concluded in Philadelphia on Monday with a game against Lincoln University.

Claflin won the first two. Exhausted, the Panthers dropped the third one.

Still, they headed for home with a stellar 12-2 record for the season. They can boast about being nationally ranked in Division II for the first time ever.

Claflin’s next game will be Livingstone College’s New Trent Gym this Saturday at 4 p.m.

For Claflin’s standout guard Jailen Williams, a graduate of Jesse Carson High, the Livingstone gym will be close to home and will feel like home.

“Growing up, I went to a number of Livingstone games,” Williams said. “I even considered attending Livingstone. Now I’m very excited about coming home and playing in front of my family. However, I think my family might be even more excited.”

Seems like only yesterday that Williams was playing for the best team Carson coach Brian Perry ever had. That was the 2017-18 squad. With a stellar five of Jamarius Hairston, Owen White, Cole Perry, Cameron Prugh and Williams — backed up by Cole Sifford and Cole Hales — they won the Christmas tournament, went 26-3 and reached the fourth round of the 3A state playoffs before losing to a Cox Mill powerhouse that had Wendell Moore and Leaky Black.

Williams was the engine of that Carson squad, scoring 17.6 points per game, rebounding bigger than his size, handling the ball, penetrating and getting the ball to the shooters where they could score.

Jailen was the lighter, thinner follow-up to his muscular older brother Benjamin “Tre” Williams, who excelled at Carson in football and track and field as well as hoops.

Both of the Williams brothers scored more than 1,000 points for the Cougars.

In the college ranks, Tre was a basketball standout for Davidson Community College and then at Claflin.

So it was no surprise that Jailen also chose Claflin. He looked up to his big brother.

But it hasn’t been a conventional journey for Williams at the HBCU school.

He redshirted during the 2018-19 season.

He got some playing time for the Panthers in 2019-20 and started four games. He totaled 38 assists and 24 steals.

But then he disappeared for two seasons, dropped off the radar.

“COVID was a major factor in that,” Williams said. “I wasn’t on anyone’s roster for two years, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t in the gym. I was always in the gym.”

Older and stronger, he is back  on the Claflin roster this season. He’s made a serious comeback and has been instrumental in Claflin’s surprising surge to being one of the CIAA’s top teams.

He is a senior now in the classroom. The former National Honor Society member studies for a degree in business administration.

On the court, as far as basketball eligibility, he is a junior, so he’ll have a decision to make after this season.

Williams is averaging 11.1 points,  second on a well-balanced team. He doesn’t take or make many 3-pointers for a 6-foot guard, but he leads the team in steals and assists.

And believe it or not, he leads the Panthers in rebounds with 5.2 per game.

“I’ve always been aggressive on the glass, going back to high school,” Williams said. “Anytime I get a defensive board, that’s a chance to push it and get us an easy transition opportunity. It’s been a great experience, getting to do some good things for the same program that my brother also did some good things for.”

In a recent overtime win against Clayton State, Williams was better than good. He was great.

He turned in a career game with 25 points and 13 rebounds. That outstanding effort earned him CIAA Player of the Week honors.

Now he’ll get a chance to play in front of family and friends at Livingstone on Saturday.

It will be an emotional day.

The Blue Bears will also be honoring the late Eric Henderson with a “Black Out” Day and are urging all fans attending to wear black.