Don’t get him wrong, Jayson Tatum absolutely wants to experience the rush that comes with holding his hand a foot away from his face and nearly being blinded by the bling in his state championship ring. He wants to rush the court and engage in flying chest bumps with his teammates and there’s nothing he’d like more than to pause for sweat-soaked snapshots amidst a torrential downpour of confetti come state tournament time.
But Friday when he and Chaminade College Prep (St. Louis, Mo.) faceoff against Christian Brothers College (St. Louis.) at Linden University at 8 p.m. ET, Tatum’s motivation for winning will be much more practical.
He simply wants to be able to sit at his Grandma Dorothy’s table for Sunday dinner, behind her mouthwatering fried chicken, collard greens, yams, mashed potatoes and gourmet spaghetti, and smile at his dad Justin Tatum.
“That’s it,” Jayson said with a laugh. “That would be the perfect scenario for this one.”
Careful not confuse the practicality with contentment, Jayson’s competitive edge is one of the many things that have him in the No. 1 overall spot in the ESPN 60.
Beating any team is great, but beating your dad’s team… That’s, well, pretty sweet.
“It feels pretty good, I can’t lie,” Jayson said. “You know people always say that every game is the same, but this is one is different. I mean… It’s my dad. You never wanna lose that game.”
This is Justin’s second year as head coach at his alma mater; he won the state title in his first year, but Jayson leads the head-to-head series 2-1, his last win coming handily, 81-59, on Dec. 9.
The unwritten rule amongst he and Justin?
Let the sting of the loss heal for “a couple of days.”
“When we beat him in my first year I knew not to bother him with it right away,” Justin said. “I didn’t really say anything. I didn’t want to just keep rubbing it in. I’m not like that.”
Jayson shares Justin’s humility; he’s never rubbed in the fact that he’s up in the series, the 22-point drubbing he handed the Cadets or the countless highlights he pulled off in the process of said win.
Good thing too; Justin is quick to point out that, if his son ever got the urge to gloat, he’d have to remind him that he’s got three state title rings – one as a player for the Cadets in 1997, one as a coach at CBC and one as a coach at Soldan International Studies (St. Louis, Mo.).
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“I’ve got a few pieces of jewelry I could showoff,” Justin said with a laugh. “My rings are about as big as his head.”
“And then I’d have to break out my two gold medals that I won with Team USA,” Jayson said. “He won those in the state, I won mine against the world. I think I win that one.”
Still, in order to have the best chance at winning this one, Jayson plans to implement the same strategy he’s used in all of these head-to-head matchups with his dad – avoidance.
“I don’t even like to look at him when I come in the gym when we play them,” Jayson said. “It’s already tense that we’re playing against each other because we’re so close so I don’t want it to feel any crazier. That first game we lost last year I feel like I was trying to do too much because I wanted to win so badly. The last two I just played my game and we won.”
No one knows better than Justin about Jayson’s capabilities on the hardwood, which is why, in order to fulfill his goal of “tying this series up,” Justin has simplified the message to his team, in regards to playing Jayson.
“Don’t talk to him,” Justin said. “Not because he’s my son, it’s just that there’s a switch that turns on when guys start talking junk to him that is hard to turn off.”
It’s relative, Jayson, a 6-foot-8 forward whose college offer list reads like a who’s who of college basketball’s most elite programs, is averaging 28 points and 11 rebounds a game this season.
“We have fun with it, but, at the end of the day, I just want the win,” Jayson said. “Yeah it’s my dad, but I just hate to lose, period. I’ll do whatever I can not to lose this game. I want to be able to smile on Sunday.”
Grandma Dorothy’s dinner table awaits.
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY