He sat in the top of the Nutter Center — up on the concourse overlooking the well-lit basketball court — and talked about his development.
“I’d watch what other people did, then go try it. Sometimes I’d fall, but I’d get back up again and try it again until I just got better and better.”
So that’s how Jaylon Hall developed into the promising 6-foot-6 freshman guard for the Wright State Raiders?
No — he was talking about roller skating.
“That’s the one thing people don’t know about me — I’m a big roller skater,” he said. “I’ve been roller skating probably ever since I could walk. And I’m pretty good now. It’s my first love besides basketball.”
But what about now as he makes his college basketball debut tonight when the Raiders travel to Chicago to play Loyola in the season opener?
“No, I haven’t skated since I came to college,” he admitted. “That’s probably part of my past now. I don’t want any kind of injury that could keep me from playing.”
He went through too much just to get here.
Over five years ago he left his parents, his siblings and his hometown of Houston to make this happen. Long before that he said he’d lost any dream of an idyllic childhood.
It’s not a subject he enjoys talking about, but he broached it the other afternoon.
“Childhood was rough for me,” he said quietly. “My parents split up when I was real young and there was a lot of turmoil. My dad raised me the times I was able to see him, but it was more like I was raising myself.”
He said he “definitely rebelled and all those type of things,” but said his actions manifested themselves differently than with some other kids:
“I’m a very quiet guy. I don’t really say much. I think the reason for that is I found myself alone a lot. But that kind of gave me the sense of ‘alright you’re all you got.’
“I’d go outside in front of our house and just dribble a basketball. There was a park around where I grew up, but it really wasn’t safe. So they didn’t want me down there ‘til I got older.
“So I’d watch NBA players and then go out and try to do what they did. I’d dream about doing all that. I’d just dribble up and down the street until it was too dark to see or I was told to come inside.
“Basketball became my escape.”
He wasn’t just talking figuratively.
The summer before his freshman year in high school he left his immediate family in Houston and moved to Louisville to live with Tony Williams (the former 1,000-point scorer for the University of Louisville and a 14-year pro with Asociacion Deportiva Atenas, the winningest pro hoops team in the history of Argentina), who was a high school coach in Kentucky.
Hall calls Williams his “uncle,” but actually he’s his first cousin.
He said several years ago his parents and Williams had talked about him moving to Louisville to play basketball. But once he made the jump — moving in with Williams, his wife and their two small children — it became much more than that.
“It was a better all-around situation for me,” Hall said. “It was the best place for me to grow as a person, too.”
That’s not to say he wasn’t torn by what was going on back home.
“As I got older, I got to an age where I could see things differently and I could speak up for myself,” he said. “It bothered me that conflict was still going on at home. I wanted to try to make my mom and dad realize everything they were arguing about wasn’t worth it. It was pointless. But it’s hard to tell someone how you really feel unless you are there and can look at them face to face and see into their eyes.”
Instead, he channeled himself into his new life.
He played one season for Williams at St. Francis High School and then the pair moved to Doss High, Williams’ alma mater
In three years with Williams at the helm and Hall developing into a long-bodied guard who could handle the ball, the team went 79-24 and made it into the Sweet 16 the past two postseason tournaments.
As a senior Hall — who also maintained a 3.2 grade-point average in the classroom — averaged 19 points, four rebounds and three assists a game. He became a 1,000-point scorer himself and was a candidate for Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball.
Youngstown State, UNC-Asheville and the Raiders offered him scholarships.
And when he came to Wright State he said he was smitten:
“I fell in love with the campus and the guys on the team. And a big reason was I loved the coaches. Once I sat down and talked to Coach Nagy and Coach Sargent, they were straight up with me and didn’t try to sugarcoat anything. They told me I was going to have to work for my spot.”
Fueled by doubters
The question — “After a tough childhood how did you turn out to be such a good student and basketball player?” — made him stop and think and finally shrug.
“I’ve been asked that question so many times and I just don’t know the answer,” he said. “I think it’s guidance from my uncle and some from my dad and just my own desire to be better. I knew I wasn’t going to be able to come to college or play basketball unless I got a scholarship.
“So I had to use basketball as a tool. And I don’t think I’d be here now if I hadn’t gone through the struggle I did.
“Other people might need to listen to slow music or dance or do whatever they do to get hyped. But I just use my anger and other people’s doubts and their trash talk, anything like that, to fuel me. I actually play better when I’m a little mad and got an edge.”
And head coach Scott Nagy said he believes Hall will play better and better as the season goes on:
“Of all our players, I think Jaylon will make the biggest jump from what he is now until the end of the year.”
Already the now-184-pound Hall has put on 15 pounds since he came to campus this summer. He’s hoping to added another 20.
“If we had the kind of depth we like to have, he’d be a redshirt candidate because physically he could use the extra year,” Nagy said.
“Instead we’ll need to play him now. He’s a good offensive player, but he’s being thrown into the fire. He’s never been in a college game, never been on the road in college. There’s a different level of physicality and intensity, all those things.
“Early on, it might shock him, but by the time we play in conference he won’t be shocked by any of it. So now he just has to experience it. The greatest teacher sometimes is failure. You just stick with it and you keep getting better.”
Just like he’s already done on roller skates.