Big Al Jefferson wasn’t quite so big back in ninth grade, but fellow Mississippian Mo Williams was … figuratively speaking.
Williams, a 2003 Jazz draft pick whom the team reacquired last June, is a 6-foot-1 guard. Jefferson, who is about to begin his third year in Utah, is a 6-10 center. Together, they’re expected to form 2/5 of the team’s starting lineup this season.
“I was (in) ninth grade when he was a senior in high school,” Jefferson said. “I went to go see him play and I thought he was the best player in the world.”
Williams grew up in Jackson, Miss. and starred at Murrah High School before playing college ball at Alabama. Jefferson, meanwhile, grew up in Prentiss, Miss., population around 1,500.
As a high school freshman, Jefferson knew of Williams’ reputation and made a special trip to go watch him play.
“He was at the big school and to go watch him play, it was amazing,” Jefferson said Monday at the Jazz’s annual media day.
Williams smiled when asked if he remembered the first time he met Big Al, who was around 6-4 at the time. Jefferson was up-and-coming at the time, but Williams had already arrived.
Williams chuckled when told of Jefferson’s comment that he was “the best player in the world” at the time.
“If I was him I probably would have thought that, too,” he said. “I was older than him and I was the best player in the state and he was a young guy coming up. I always liked his game.”
A few years later Jefferson became Mississippi’s best high school player. As a senior he averaged 42.6 points, 17 rebounds and seven blocked shots per game. Although he had offers to play at the college level, he was drafted by the Boston Celtics with the No. 15 pick in the 2004 draft.
“I remember going off to college and hearing from home,” Williams said. “They said, ‘Man, Al scored 67 points (in a single game) today.’ I was like, ‘Little Big Al, 67 points?’ It’s amazing to see how both our lives have grown.”
Williams and Jefferson have been good friends for years, often getting together to work out in Mississippi during the offseason.
Jefferson said he was thrilled when the Jazz acquired Williams in a draft-night trade last June.