Jalen Wilson is under no illusions about his role in the NBA. In college, he was the man — the All-American, the Big 12 Player of the Year, the nation’s No. 1 small forward.
But to get on the court with the Brooklyn Nets, Wilson, a second-round pick out of Kansas, understands he must be efficient and impactful without the ball in his hands. To that end, Las Vegas last month was an encouraging couple weeks for Wilson, who was Brooklyn’s best player in Summer League and earned All-tournament honors despite ranking fourth on the team in shot attempts.
“A lot of people just had me as a volume shooter — saying, ‘he needs to get this many shots to do this.’ And I feel like I completely ended that narrative,” Wilson said in an interview with the Daily News. “Just being able to show that I don’t need the ball 20 times to affect the game. Rookies are not going to get shots up, unless it’s the Victor [Wembanyama’s] of the world. You got to be efficient with the ball. And I prepared for it all summer.”
Of course, it’s still an uphill battle for Wilson in the NBA. Second-round picks (he was taken 51st overall) on two-way contracts typically aren’t afforded much opportunity, especially on a team aiming for a playoff spot.
But Wilson, who has been training at the Nets practice facility for most of the summer, is operating with a couple favorable factors. No. 1, he’s among the oldest rookies at nearly 23 years old. Biology suggests he’s more physically prepared for the NBA than his 2023 draft classmates.
“I would say my speed and strength is definitely more equipped, just because of the time I had [training for four years at the University of Kansas],” Wilson said. “It’s not a knock to anybody who is 18 or 19, it’s just the physical part of it.”
No 2, Wilson is a proven winner and NCAA champion at Kansas, which, separate from the experience it creates for future pressurized situations, boosts a natural connection and camaraderie with Nets head coach Jacque Vaughn, a former two-time All-American with the Jayhawks.
“All you got to say is, ‘Rock Chalk,’ said Wilson, repeating the chant from Jayhawks games. “And he’ll say, ‘Rock Chalk’ back.”
No. 3, Wilson is self-aware as a rookie wing on a roster with Mikal Bridges and Cam Johnson. He wants to play defense and rebound, believing that his upside in shooting efficiency is based on the lesser offensive role. At Kansas, for instance, Wilson averaged 20.1 points last season but shot only 33.7% on treys. At Summer League, his 3-point percentage rose to 45.8% over the five games.
“College for sure, was different,” said Wilson. “I had the ball in my hands a lot. I had to do a lot of things for my team. Take a lot of tough shots. Now, I think as I showed in Summer League and moving forward in the NBA, I won’t have to take those tough shots at the buzzer. I won’t have to take contested shots over double teams. This isn’t Kansas. This is the Brooklyn Nets. So I feel like the load being less, my numbers will increase. And I feel like I showed that in Summer League. And I’m excited to continue to show it.”
WILSON, WILSON & YMCA
Jalen Wilson surprised members of the Dodge YMCA in Brooklyn on Wednesday with a free basketball clinic and a $10,000 donation for the facility.
The event was part of an initiative by Wilson Sporting Goods, which added money to its donation based on Jalen Wilson’s point and assist totals at Summer League.
It was personally rewarding for Wilson, who said he fell in love with basketball at his local YMCA in Texas. Plus, the partnership with Wilson — which also makes the official NBA basketballs — was cool for the namesake reason.
Coincidentally, the 22-year-old said he has the ‘Wilson’ company logo tattooed on his ribs. His younger brother has the same tattoo.
Wilson, the sporting goods company, has provided $1.5 million in funding to YMCA’s around the country as part of a multi-year partnership