NCAA Basketball: Oregon at Colorado

Colorado freshman Cody Williams has encountered life-defining moments in numerous basketball gymnasiums across the country.

Some of his earliest memories around the game formed in gyms. From training with his older brother, Jalen Williams, who went from an under-recruited prospect to one of the rising stars in the NBA with the Oklahoma City Thunder, to crossing paths with his current college coach, Tad Boyle, for the first time inside a familiar spot at his high school gym in Gilbert, Arizona. And most recently, his draft stock has skyrocketed because of his play inside various college gyms across the country.

It's one of the reasons why Williams is considered one of the leading candidates to become the No. 1 overall pick in the 2024 NBA Draft this summer. He is the No. 6 selection in David Cobb's recent NBA Mock Draft.

If the stars align, he could create even more memories — as soon as next month — inside more populated arenas during March Madness and become a household name. 

"His upside is undeniable," Boyle told CBS Sports. "That fact that he's the younger brother of Jalen, who has had a tremendous impact early in his NBA career. They come from the same family, have the same body type and they're wonderful people with humility and work ethic. You know that he's going to keep getting better and better."

As of Thursday, the Buffaloes are projected as one of the "Last 4 in" in CBS Sports' latest Bracketology by Jerry Palm. Colorado has three games left in the regular season before heading to Las Vegas for the Pac-12 Tournament. Colorado isn't guaranteed a spot in the Big Dance, but closing the season on a high note would drastically increase those chances and give him another shot at a big moment in a gym.

Following in older brother's footsteps 

From a young age, Cody knew he could rely on his brother for guidance and a competitive game of 1-on-1. Their parents, Ron and Nicole Williams, often worked late to fund their basketball dreams, leaving Jalen to look after Cody.

Due to their four-year age gap, Cody had the opportunity to observe his brother's recruiting and draft processes. The elder Williams ranked as a three-star recruit and spent three seasons at Santa Clara before declaring for the 2022 NBA Draft. Williams soared up draft boards in the days leading up to the big night and was drafted 12th overall by the Thunder.

"Being the younger brother, (I) kinda had to follow in his footsteps in terms of going to all of his practices because my parents were working late," Cody Williams said. "So the big thing was being with him 24/7 when he's in the gym and learning from him. He was kicking my butt throughout the years growing up. … I got my mentality from him because he wasn't recruited heavily at all as he should've been."

The Williams brothers are on the cusp of making history. They could join an elite fraternity as siblings drafted in the first round of the NBA Draft. Last year, Amen and Ausar Thompson became the first set of siblings to be selected in the top 10 in the same draft, and it's increasingly likely that Cody and Jalen will follow suit.

"That brought us closer together and allowed me to mentor him there," Jalen Williams said. "That's kinda why I think he has a head start with a lot of it because he's been working out with me for so long and doing a lot of the same stuff I was doing. … We had a lot of fun doing it, too. We have a lot of good memories of us kinda getting stranded in the court and having to just sit there for hours and wait for our parents to pick us up while we played basketball."

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It's not entirely out of the question that they could join forces in OKC. The Thunder have a treasure chest of first-round selections for years to come because of various trades made throughout the years by their general manager, Sam Presti. None of the picks are currently projected to fall in the range where Williams is mocked, but it doesn't mean they can't move up to pair them together.

"We always used to joke that the one way we would be able to play on the same team is if we were in the NBA," Cody Williams said. "We have been saying that since I was like 8 (years old) and he was 11 or 12. Now, that could actually be a reality. Sadly we haven't been able to play together, but hopefully soon. ... We are both achieving our dreams and competing at the highest level and doing something we love. Doing that together would also be a bonus. I definitely say playing together for sure because we never got to experience that. So being able to do that at the highest level, I would definitely take playing together over against each other."

Jalen would be open to the pairing as well.

"It would be really cool to play with him (in the NBA)," He said. "I think he said earlier, we've never played on the same team. I'm open to whatever, he knows that. We're both competitors. It would be cool regardless to play with or without each other. It would be really cool to be on the same team."

Colorado goes 'all-in' on its highest-ranked recruit

When Williams committed to Colorado in November 2022, he became the first five-star recruit to ever sign with the program. Williams simultaneously became the highest-ranked Colorado signee in the 247Sports era, surpassing former four-star center Lawson Lovering

His journey to Colorado started well before Boyle paid him an in-person visit at Perry High School during the spring of 2022. During that interaction, Boyle had a chance to watch Williams work out at his high school gym. The visit ended with the longtime coach signaling a clear message: Williams was Colorado's top priority in its upcoming recruiting cycle.

"I tried to explain (to Cody) the concept of a poker player going all-in on his hand," Boyle said. "I said I'm all-in on you. You are absolutely priority number one. You're the guy that we want. It worked out. I think that resonated with him."

Cody Williams
COLO • F • #10
6-8 | Freshman
FG PCT59.0
3FG PCT45.7
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Boyle's pitch worked. Williams committed to Colorado over the likes of Texas, USC, Arizona, LSU and UCLA months after that first interaction. Others came on late during his recruitment, but Boyle and Colorado were able to hang on to its prized prospect because of the relationship built throughout the process.

"(My family) always kept me level-headed," Cody Williams said. "Never take anything for granted. Always (volunteering at) food shelters and any community service over the holidays just so they can show us the value in what we have. ... that's kind of the core values they instilled in us and that's kinda the reason why I chose Colorado because those are the same values that coach Boyle has here on the team. That's the kind of standard he holds us to."

Why Williams is considered a 'can't-miss prospect'

The 2024 NBA Draft is wide open at the top. Realistically, at least a half-dozen players could be considered with the top pick.

The reason why Williams is being mocked near the top is what his coach alluded to earlier: upside. That leaves NBA decision-makers with a potential dilemma in the coming months. Will they swing for the fences with a high-ceiling prospect or draft a more proven high-floor player with multiple years of college experience with their respective selections?

In a draft that's filled with mystery and without a "generational talent" like last year with Victor Wembanyama, Boyle still feels strong about where his star freshman sits in the pecking order.

"He's as close to a can't-miss prospect as I've seen in a long time," Boyle said. "Because of all the things I've talked about. His humility, his work ethic, his feel for the game, his love for the game. He's not entitled at all."

Williams stands at 6-foot-8, making him the ideal jumbo wing who can double as another ball handler. He is the perfect prototype for the modern NBA — hence why players like him are so coveted in the draft. He's improved his 3-point shooting from high school to college and is knocking down an impressive 45.7% of his attempts from distance. 

Williams is averaging 13.7 points, 3.3 rebounds and 1.8 assists on 59% shooting. His length and size at the position make him an ideal candidate to become one of the top defenders at the next level, which is something he strives to do once he gets to the league.

"I think one of the biggest things is just my versatility," Cody Williams said. "I can play multiple positions on the court, I can guard multiple positions, which is the big thing. I feel like I have the potential to be an elite defender."

Part of his leap from high school to the college level started back in the gym with his older brother. Williams routinely flew from Colorado to Arizona last summer to train with Jalen before the start of their respective seasons. Those summer workouts in Arizona made his older brother realize how dedicated he was to improving his game and getting to the NBA.

"Just the last two years and how serious he has been," Jalen Williams said. "Obviously, he's extremely talented, but just how serious his workouts got (was a turning point). He kinda wanted to shadow me while I was working out, so he would come work out with me and drop what he was doing to do that. … Just trying to play like a pro and treating his body like a pro over the summer gave me the sign that he was serious about it. I'm also a firm believer that you don't really know if someone can go to the NBA because of all the stuff that can happen, but his work ethic was something where I was like yeah, he has the tools and the making to piece it all together to do what he's doing right now."

There is a lot of time between now and June's 2024 NBA Draft at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Williams still has a season to finish and a decision to make about declaring for the draft. If he goes the expected route, Williams will have a chance to create another defining moment — this time at an NBA gymnasium — the same place where his older brother started his NBA journey.