Former Illini chasing hoop dreams
After four years of playing NCAA Division 1 basketball at the University of Illinois, Jaylon Tate is excited about his first year of pro with the Niagara River Lions.
“Making it to this level is what everybody dreams about whether it’s playing here, the NBA or overseas,” the 22-year-old Chicago native said. “Being able to do what you do at a high level is like a dream come true.”
The Academic All Big Ten selection, who started seven games for Illinois in his final season and averaged 2.4 points and 1.3 rebounds per game, realized he had a chance to do something special with basketball once he got through his first two years of high school.
“I started to realize how good I really am,” the 6-foot-3, 170-pound guard said. “College coaches were recruiting me and I was getting better and better.”
Chasing his hoops dreams is the perfect place for Tate to be in.
“I have a passion for it,” he said. “It is the only sport I’ve played since I was kid and I have a love for the game.”
Tate caught the eye of River Lions head coach/GM Joe Raso while playing in a showcase tournament in Las Vegas.
“We talked at the showcase and later we talked again about me playing for the River Lions and I was excited about it,” he said.
Raso is equally excited to have Tate in the River Lions’ training camp.
“Jaylon is a full-speed guard who is a create-first player. He plays quick and under control, he attacks the basket relentlessly but if you’re open he’ll find you,” Raso said. “Defence starts with ball pressure and Jaylon will be counted on to be our first line of defence.”
Raso’s description sounds similar to how Tate describes himself.
“I am an up-tempo guard, I like to push the ball, I like to attack the basket and I will definitely find my teammates because I am a really good passer,” he said. “I work hard at the defensive end and I like to bring a lot of energy.”
Tate, who accumulated 293 points, 304 assists, and 142 rebounds in 121 games at the University of Illinois, has a few goals in mind as he prepares for his first year of National Basketball League of Canada play.
“I want to learn each and every day. I know it’s not going to happen overnight but it’s a process and it’s a long season,” he said. “I want to work hard and be teachable and coachable.”
Those last three goals will come in handy as the River Lions continue on with their training camp.
“It’s pretty intense,” Tate said. “Coach Raso is putting in a new system and everyone is learning. It is going to be a process and we’ll will have to take it one step at a time.
Tate has been all Raso expected and more as the River Lions head into their second week of training camp at Ridley College.
“I watched tape of him at Illinois and Illinois wasn’t as much of a transition team as he was a transition player,” Raso said. “I knew he could run the show. He plays at a high speed and is very controlled.”
He admires Tate for sticking it out at Illinois.
“His game didn’t fit his team’s, but he stayed there,” Raso said. “That impressed me.”
Tate’s time in St. Catharines is his first experience in Canada and he’s looking forward to sharing the experience with his siblings, including a brother and two sisters.
“I have a great family support this and they are going to come and see me play,” he said.
Who Tate plays with had yet to be determined.
Raso had hoped to have his 12-player roster chosen by this weekend but that time frame has changed with some deletions and additions to the camp.
“Hopefully at the end of the week we will have a little scrimmage and then have a formal exhibition game next week,” he said. “By the time we get to that, I am hoping we are a little more finalized.”
Training camp roster as of Monday: Carl Hall; Sam Muldrow; Tyler Murray; Josiah Moore; Jaylon Tate; Adam Wing; Adam Klie; Nathan Frye; Dwayne Smith; Guillaume Payen Bouchard; Joe Rocca; Andravious Smith; Marvel Waithe, Omar Strong and Connor Wood.