Two years ago, Jada Williams participated in the Jr. NBA Global Championship, a tournament featuring many of the best 13- and 14-year old boys and girls basketball players across the world. Williams helped lead her Kansas City, Mo.-based team to the championship, defeating a squad from Canada, 72-35, to culminate a perfect 7-0 week.

Williams, a 5-foot-6 point guard, didn’t just impress onlookers with her scoring, dribbling and passing skills. She also left an impression with her outgoing personality, maturity and leadership ability.

Williams recently became one of 18 players chosen for the inaugural Jr. NBA Court of Leaders, an NBA-sponsored program for top 15- and 16-year old players in the United States. The league selected 10 girls and eight boys who stood out on and off the court at the 2018 or 2019 Jr. NBA Global Championship.

The group has been meeting for monthly Zoom calls since December where they discuss basketball as well as leadership, social issues, mental health and other topics. Napheesa Collier, a forward with the Minnesota Lynx, and Jaren Jackson Jr., a forward with the Memphis Grizzlies, are the co-chairs of the Council and attend the virtual meetings. They also are available if any of the young players have questions outside of the sessions.

The players selected to the program are encouraged to share their thoughts on what’s going on in their lives and the world in general, as well.

“We just love interacting with each other,” said Williams, a sophomore at Blue Springs High School in Blue Springs, Mo., who last month committed to play at UCLA starting in the fall of 2023. “There’s a lot going on in the world right now whether it’s Covid or racial inequality or women’s rights. The boys and girls are coming together and trying to make the change no matter what it is.”

MORE FOR YOU

She added: “The good thing about this council is no matter where you come from or what you look like or how old you are, we’re all listening to each other and we all have each others’ back. Having those people in your corner, even the adults, we just have a great group of people.”

Each of the participants will also meet on a quarterly basis with the NBA’s youth basketball development group and offer their insights on how to improve the experience for young players. And they will have a mentor who works for the league’s office that helps them think about how to use their passion and talent for basketball in roles outside of just playing such as management, broadcasting, marketing and scouting.

“We want to expose these young people to the fact that there are so many other things they can do in sports, whether that’s pursuing a career in sports or understanding the benefits sports can provide them from a lifelong perspective,” said Candice Haynes, a domestic youth player development manager with the NBA.  

The Jr. NBA is the league’s youth basketball arm that offers players, coaches and parents with 48 practice plans and more than 250 instructional videos free of charge. It also typically hosts in-person clinics and events, but it has adopted an all-virtual experience since the pandemic began last March.  

The league decided to launch the leadership council as a way to broaden its reach and provide an opportunity for top players to expand their horizons. The NBA plans on continuing the program on a yearly basis, with the next group getting selected in August 2022 during the Jr. NBA Global Championship.

“For the past year, in particular, we’ve seen how important a role and how powerful sports can be in the lives of young people,” said Adam Harper, an associate vice president with the NBA’s youth basketball development program. “We wanted a platform that recognizes the force of young athletes to drive change and that empowers them to find and develop their voice. We want to amplify their voice not only within the youth basketball community but also within their broader communities around the country.”

Besides Williams, who is ESPN’s 13th-ranked recruit in the class of 2023, the nine other girls selected for the inaugural Jr. NBA Court of Leaders are:

·     Jadyn Donovan, a sophomore guard at Sidwell Friends School in Washington, D.C. and the No. 11 ranked recruit in the class of 2023, according to ESPN;

·     Kendall Dudley, a freshman guard at Sidwell Friends and among the top recruits in the class of 2024, according to ESPN;

·     Mackenzie Nelson, a sophomore guard at St. Luke’s School in New Canaan, Conn.;

·     S’Mya Nichols, a sophomore forward at Shawnee Mission West High School in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas and the No. 17 recruit in the class of 2023, according to ESPN;

·     Courtney Ogden, a sophomore forward at Westminster High School in Atlanta;

·     Malia Samuels, a sophomore guard at Eastside Catholic School in the Seattle suburb of Sammamish, Wash.;

·     Sumayah Sugapong, a sophomore guard at La Jolla Country Day School in the San Diego suburb of La Jolla, Calif.;

·     D’Asia Thomas, a sophomore forward at Houston Christian High School in Houston; and

·     Sole Williams, a sophomore guard at Princeton High School in Cincinnati and the No. 16 ranked player in the class of 2023, according to ESPN.

The eight boys selected for the leadership council are:

·     Royal Brown, a sophomore guard at Cohoes High School in Cohoes, N.Y., near Albany, N.Y.;

·     Kanaan Carlyle, a sophomore guard from Milton High School in the Atlanta suburb of Milton, Ga., and the No. 17 ranked recruit in the class of 2023, according to the 247Sports Composite;

·     Amani Hansberry, a sophomore forward from St. John’s College High School in Washington, D.C. and the No. 36 ranked recruit in the class of 2023, according to the 247Sports Composite;

·     Lebbeus Overton, a sophomore forward and Carlyle’s teammate at Milton High School who’s also a defensive end and the No. 1 ranked football recruit in the class of 2023, according to the 247Sports Composite;

·     Grant Stubblefield, a sophomore guard and star running back at Blue Valley Northwest High School in the Kansas City suburb of Overland Park, Kansas;

·     Quinton Webb, a sophomore forward at San Ysidro High School in San Diego;

·     Curtis Williams Jr., a sophomore forward at Brother Rice High School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and

·     Aidan Wing, a sophomore guard at Bishop Miege High School in the Kansas City suburb of Roseland Park, Kansas.