By Cole Shelton
Jaylon Tate was not the most well-known name in college, as he averaged 2.4 points a game in his senior season with Illinois. However, it wasn't all about the stats for Tate, as he got to play in front of all his family and friends as he was playing at his hometown university. "It was pretty good, I mean it being my hometown school, it was a good place to go to, with the academics, said Tate in a recent phone interview. "I was able to have friends and family come see whenever and come to games and support me, and come to my graduation and overall was a real good experience, and enjoyed my four years there."
Following his four-year college career, Tate was looking to start his professional basketball career and that's when he was noticed by Niagara River Lions head coach and general manager Joe Raso. Tate was playing at a showcase and really looking for any opportunity whether that be overseas or maybe the G League, but at that moment that is when the NBLC came into his thoughts. "I was playing in a showcase and coach Joe Raso saw me play and loved my game and talked to me after one of my games, and I could tell he had interest, and we had a good vibe from the time we talked, Tate added. "We talked weeks afterwards, and let me know what he was trying to do this year with the team, and the team he had. I also had heard that the NBLC is a great thing with a lot of talent so I thought this would be a good place to play especially for my first year as a pro." But after setting his sights on the NBLC, he had to decide which team to play for but after all the interest Jose Raso showed in him it wasn't a hard decision." A big reason like I said was Coach Raso, added Tate. "I did my research and the River Lions have a very good fanbase and good players returning from last year." With all that interest from the River Lions it appeared very clear he would be playing for Niagara but how well he would play was up in the air.
However, for Tate, he was coming into a brand new country to play professional basketball for his very first time and for many it may hinder there play, but not for Tate. He simply put the work in and it is now showing off, as through February 9th, Tate is averaging 12.0 points, 7.0 assists, and 2.8 rebounds while shooting a very respectable 41.8% from the field. Many people hadn't even heard of Tate and questioned if he could play at this level, but he knew he could play professional basketball, and it shows. "Just to come in and play my style of basketball, play my game and help my team as much as possible with whatever the coaches want me to do, Tate said of his expectations for himself this season. "They have given me a lot of confidence since day one and be the best player I can possibly be, and just help my time."
Now after his phenomenal start to the season many are questioning how one who averaged just 2.4 points per game in college has done this well in the NBLC and has been one of the better players in the league. For most rookies, no matter what sport or league, they tend to struggle to adapt to the pro game but not Tate. Even at just 23-years-old Tate has shown he can play with people who have fully grown into their body and not just play with them but be a dominating player for the River Lions. How he has adjusted to playing professional basketball it is quite simple to him. It is definitely as fast-paced as far as reaction wise, and it is also just more physical, Tate added on how he is adjusting to professional basketball in the NBLC compared to playing in college. "There are a lot more physical players. I'm 23-years old playing against grown men, so it is much different than college but at the same time I think I have adjusted well with the help of my coaches and teammates."
Tate has shown his ability to adjust to the pro game, and with that, he has become a legitimate rookie of the year candidate. Not only that, Tate has been a very effective scorer starting games or coming off the bench. Tate is also leading Niagara most likely back to the playoffs thanks to his play at point guard which may have caused the release of Omar Strong, given how well Tate has been playing. Tate has also gained the trust of his teammates due to his style of game. "I am a pass-first point guard, I like to score as well, just really read the defence, said Tate. "Every game is going to be different whether people want me to score or help my guys out, I'm very poised, like to play fast pace." Tate has been utilizing his game to the fullest and with that have been getting other Niagara players to play better as he will often find them open looks for a three-pointer or will get double-teamed which will leave someone open for an open jumper, or a drive to the basket for an easy dunk or layup.