PADUCAH, Ky. – Used to playing in France where he typically had games just once a week, Jaylen Hoard has spent the beginning part of the 2016-17 basketball season adapting to a whole new brand of basketball.
The talented Wesleyan Christian Academy (High Point, N.C.) wing played on the national stage for the first time all season over the weekend, and he didn’t disappoint. Though his team suffered its second loss of the year against highly-touted Prolific Prep (Napa, Calif.) on Saturday, Hoard put up 16 points a day after his 30-point outburst in a win over The Conrad Academy (Orlando, Fla).
There’s still plenty of adjusting for Hoard, but he was up for the challenge in going up against Duke signee Gary Trent Jr. and Oregon signee Abu Kigab on Saturday during Mustang Madness in Paducah, Ky.
“I had a quick learning curve in the beginning of the season but I have bounced back,” he said. “Today it was a good learning test for me. It was different playing on a national level for only the second game. It was pretty hard but it was good for me playing against those guys on that stage.”
Hoard has led Wesleyan Christian to an 18-2 record so far this season, putting up 25 points per game according to his head coach Keith Gatlin.
Gatlin said Hoard continues to grow, and he’s looking for him to use that athleticism from his 6-foot-8, 185-pound frame on both ends of the court for the whole game.
“He has all the attributes to be great. He’s having a phenomenal year,” Gatlin said. “Sometimes you get sidetracked when you’re scoring so easy, you think it’ll come easy every night. When you’re the focal point, you have to find other ways to impact the game and you’ll have your time when the game takes its own identity.”
It didn’t come easy for him on Saturday, as Prolific built a large lead early in the game and fought off every Wesleyan Christian run to hand it a rare loss.
Though frustrated after the loss, Hoard saw positives in the game and is taking it as a learning experience going forward.
“I didn’t do as well as I normally do. Those guys compete hard the whole game and I just have to do different things,” he said. “They were stronger today and I couldn’t get to the rim, so I should have relied on my jump shot.”
Against the North Carolina players he has been used to playing against this season, Hoard hasn’t had much of an issue finishing at the basket. It’s the strongest part of his game, but he said is working on improving his jump shot to become more multi-faceted offensively.
Gatlin, who played for Maryland in the 1980s, echoed Hoard’s thoughts in that it comes down to him playing a full 32 minutes. If he does that, then there’s no doubt he’s one of the best wings in the country according to his head coach.
“You have to compete on a nightly basis. That’s the next thing for him because he’s so talented,” he said. “You can’t let offense dictate how you play on the other end. He’s so talented, but when you play on a national stage you have to compete the whole game.”
Hoard saw his prospects soar during the summer when he averaged 22.4 points, 5.7 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game for France at the FIBA U17 World Championships in Spain. He’s now a consensus top-30 recruit in the 2018 class with offers from Arizona, Cal, Washington, Wake Forest, Oklahoma State and Maryland.
Not bad for a player who missed two full years of basketball from ages 13-15 due to a pair of foot injuries.
In no hurry to make his college decision, the goal for Hoard is to continue to build Wesleyan Christian into a top contender for the North Carolina state title. With fellow transfers Aaron Wiggins and DeAndre Wilkins teaming up with him, it’s a realistic goal.
“We have been playing really well, especially in North Carolina we’ve had some good wins,” he said. “I just want to continue to get better, work on my weaknesses and build for a state championship.”
With its 18 wins already this season – two away from its total from last year – Wesleyan Christian have reaffirmed its No. 20 ranking in the Super 25 preaseason rankings.
“This weekend was a great learning experience for the whole team,” Gatlin said. “At 18-2 right now we’re feeling pretty good, especially with our point guard Shawn Walker out with an injury. We’re looking forward to the rest of the season.”