WORDS by Kobe Dayao
Picture this: you’re at the stadium, nosebleed section, and it’s the final seconds of the fourth quarter. Your favorite player’s team is down by a dozen points.
For anyone else, all hope of somehow digging their way out of this hole passed an entire quarter ago. But then you remember your guy’s name is BJ Williams. That name, plus the fact that he’s got the never-say-die attitude most Filipino hoopers have, get you to instantly believe that he can somehow T-Mac the game in the last 30 seconds. You get your banner out, wave the flag, and cheer at the top of your lungs while everyone else is headed for the exits. If this is you, chances are you’re a Filipino sports fan.
It’s not uncommon to see Filipino fans rooting for their squad despite having everything stacked against them. When we root for the guys and girls repping our flag, we root for them with all that we can give.
When a new face comes into the scene, we treat them with the same amount of support we’d pour onto a player who had been repping our colors for decades. In 2022, that new face comes in the form of an 11-year-old prodigy named Braylon J. Williams, or BJ as he commonly goes by. If you’re not familiar with BJ just yet, that’s okay. But just know that this Class of 2028 superstar is no stranger to those who’ve seen what he’s capable of on the court.
In the state of Tennessee, BJ played a bit of soccer in his earlier days, representing the state’s club. He was eight at the time. But it was the rush of basketball that he enjoyed the most and the sport that was deeply rooted in his family.
BJ shared how his love for the game all came to be and how his mother Annabelle, who was born to a Filipino household, played a big role in it all. She played college ball at Georgetown University, home to some of the NBA’s greatest players: Allen Iverson, Patrick Ewing, and Dikembe Mutombo to name a few.
“I got it from my mom. She always put me in the gym when I was very young. It’s just always been a thing I always did,” BJ told SLAM Philippines.
When asked if he could one-up his best coach-slash-mother in a game of one-on-one, there was a confident smile and nod from the young protege. His mother also helps him run his social accounts, as BJ has built himself quite the following on social media with over 7,000 followers on Instagram. But even with the kind of traction he’s garnered online, he isn’t blinded by all the jazz that’s buzzing on his phone—a trait that you can’t say most kids his age possess.
“My mom runs my social account but I don’t really focus on that stuff, I just focus on how I can get better as a player and personally off the court too. I completely shut it out and I don’t really think about it until I get off-court”, BJ said.
BJ’s mother has been with him since day one of his first tournament, so it comes to no one’s surprise when she’s seen out there on the sidelines rooting for him and breaking down both the good and the bad plays for her son.
“She goes to mostly all of my games and she video-tapes highlights and lowlights, and afterwards she’ll tell me what I need to work on and then it’s up to me to work on it. It really helps me see what I need to work on,” BJ said.
“If she goes to one of my games, then next one [game] she’ll tell me what I didn’t do and then I need to do it in that game,” he added.
With the maturity he’s shown in answering the questions laid out for him, BJ would have you believe that you were talking to someone twice his age on the other end of the Zoom call. But despite sounding more mature than his peers, BJ is still like any other kid—loves to play Fortnite and NBA 2K, messes around with his three younger siblings, goes to basketball practice five times a week, then breaks ankles and drops three-point buckets on the weekends. You know, typical 11-year-old stuff.
Okay, maybe this isn’t your average 11-year-old.
It’s no secret that basketball is a mainstay in the Williams household, and like any hoop-loving youth his age, BJ shares the dream of one day making it to the NBA and playing alongside fellow Filipino-Americans, Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green. There’s also hopefulness in the young Fil-Am to someday inspire a new generation of Filipino-American hoopers the same way the two before him did.
“If I do make it to the NBA, I would know that I wasn’t the only Filipino-American to make it. And if I do make it, I do hope that other Filipino-Americans look up to me like I look up to [Jordan Clarkson and Jalen Green],” BJ said.
BJ’s maturity comes into play again when he talks about his other aspirations outside of basketball and his plans of entrepreneurship when his playing time is over. Again, not your average 11-year-old.
“First thing’s first, I want to make it to the NBA. But even if I do make it to the NBA, I know that I can’t play forever, so after that, I probably will be like an entrepreneur of, like, maybe a drink—like Kobe Bryant,” he said.
As evident with some players from the past, talent can only get you so far. The factor of work and motivation comes into play once a player’s talent gets caught up by the rest of their group. Then, if they’re not able to build on that talent, they’re left behind by those who chose to work harder than the rest.
This underlying problem can be found in some younger athletes, but you won’t see that with BJ. Now, at age 11—still such a young age—BJ describes his work ethic as a trait he picked up from seeing how his mother and his lola approach their everyday life.
“I’ve seen that my grandmother and my mother really are hard workers and I think that’s the [Filipino] trait I’ve picked up because I feel like I’m a really hard worker myself,” he said.
Such work ethic and mindset don’t go unnoticed, as even coaches from some of the Philippines’ top schools recognize the level of potential and dedication the 11-year-old holds. Paying a visit to one of BJ’s games for Ensworth School in Nashville, Tennessee, the University of the Philippines men’s basketball team’s former head coach, Bo Perasol, provided the young man with some food for thought as he continues to progress in his basketball career.
“It was a great experience for me meeting [Coach Bo]. He was very kind and what he told me was to never give up, push through your setbacks and always work hard,” BJ said.
BJ has all the makings of a future star in the professional leagues. You mix that with the pool opportunities that will undoubtedly come his way in time, then you’re left with a future bright spot for the Filipino fans to cheer for as one of their own.
“I haven’t yet, but I really wanna meet more Filipino fans,” he said.
There will be countless opportunities for BJ to meet more of his fans from the southeast. But perhaps the best opportunity for that to happen is if—and that’s a big if—BJ decides to take his talents and work ethic back to Manila. The young man knows this, but his dreams to rep the color of the Duke Blue Devils come first and foremost. When asked about the possibility of playing here in the Philippines, I was once again greeted with an answer a 22-year-old would have interjected.
“I would probably say that I would stay here to play at Duke, it’s one of my dream colleges. But you never know, I may go over there [to the Philippines] to play,” he said with a little smile.
But whether or not BJ decides to fly to the Philippines and play for the local fans in Araneta or MO or chooses to work on his game in the US and one day play in the Cameron Indoor Stadium at Duke, there’s no doubt in my mind that once he steps on the court, there will be a plethora of fans in the stands waving a blue and red banner with three stars and a sun, or a custom Gilas jersey with “Williams” on the back. Well, maybe it doesn’t have to be a custom for that last one.
So, if you’re still not familiar with BJ Williams just yet, you should be. Remember the name.