EMERSON, Ga. – Conventional wisdom tells Jaylen Hoard that if he was able to dominate the competition for his native country of France last year at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Spain, averaging 22.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game as a role player, then the last year of playing high school and now summer ball in the U.S. in his new role as a star will take his game to an even higher level next month when he suits up for the French U18 National Team.
“That’s what I’m hoping,” Hoard said. “The last year I’ve just been working more and more on being more assertive and aggressive because in France we just play roles. My game has grown a lot playing against all of the talented players over here; especially on the Nike EYBL. This is just another level.”
Hoard thought he had an idea of what to expect after a grueling high school season with Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.), where he led the Trojans to the state title game averaging 21 points and 11 rebounds per game.
But he quickly found out why the EYBL is widely regarded as the toughest shoe circuit in the country with multiple four-and five-star recruits on most teams.
“I didn’t know it was gonna be this much different from high school ball,” Hoard said. “The guys are bigger and play harder, but the biggest thing was that I had to stay aggressive and not play soft. My teammates just kept encouraging me in the first session in Virginia and my confidence just kept growing.”
This past session in Atlanta was Hoard’s most productive, posting 23.5 points and nine rebounds a game to help Team CP3 (N.C.) finish 3-1.
“I just feel like the game is clicking for me more now,” said Hoard, who is ranked No. 36 overall in the ESPN 60. “I’ve gotten more aggressive since I’ve been here and that’s helped my overall game. I just try not to overthink it, but some things I’m still not all the way used to.”
Specifically, the droves of college coaches that attended the first two sessions of the EYBL.
Hoard said even though his teammates attempted to try and mentally prepare him for the crowd of coaches from schools like North Carolina, Purdue, USC, Arizona and N.C. State that would inevitably be parked courtside at his games, he “wasn’t ready for all of that.”
“You try not to look at them, but that’s impossible,” Hoard said with a laugh. “All of the well-known coaches are right there on the sideline watching you and that’s a lot different for me. I’m better with it now, but, at first, I had to get used to it. I appreciate all of these experiences though; I don’t have any regrets.”
Then again, maybe just one.
Hoard said he wishes he could experience playing at the Nike Peach Jam in July, which Team CP3 seems primed and ready for posting a 10-2 record headed into the fourth and final session in Los Angeles over Memorial Day Weekend.
“I’ve heard so much about Peach Jam and how much crazier and competitive it is than even the games we’re playing now,” Hoard said. “That’s definitely something I’d want to experience, but I’m excited to be able to play for my country. I leave right after the EYBL session in L.A. and I can’t wait to use everything I’ve learned in this last year to see how much my game has grown.”
Follow Jason Jordan on Twitter: @JayJayUSATODAY