Gee-Force: Jayson Gee Q + A
Former coach of former NBA vet Gary Trent and Miami Heat rookie Norris Cole speaks.
by Sandy Dover / @San_Dova
Once upon a time, a young star player from Springfield, OH, became a high school legend in his city, moved onto collegiate stardom at the University of Charleston, and eventually became one of the youngest assistant coaches in the nation in 1989. More than two decades later, he’s become one of the more accomplished and underrated coaches in the NCAA and has had the pleasure to lead his own teams and be a part of the lives of some of the best players in the country.
In September 2011, I had the great fortune of speaking with Jayson Gee (pronounced “G”), now an associate head coach for the Cleveland State University Vikings (formerly an assistant at Youngstown State University, Ohio University and St. Bonaventure University, and head coach at Charleston), about his role in shaping the games and lives of former NBA power forward Gary Trent and current Miami Heat speedster Norris Cole, and the importance of being a guiding light for college athletes as a coach.
SLAM: When you first got into the gym with Gary Trent and Norris Cole, did you understand them to be NBA talents early or was it later that you realized?
Jayson Gee: When I first saw Gary, it was obvious [that] he was an NBA-level athlete, but with him being 6-6 at the time, there were no visions of the NBA! His skill set was limited to at-the-basket effectiveness, and it was obvious [that] he had very little experience at playing the game in an organized structured setting.
With Norris, he was under-recruited as a high school senior (we were the only DI program to offer a scholarship), so while observing him, I had it in the back of my mind [that he was] fortunate to be here and him starting by his sophomore season would be a realistic option, at best. Needless to say, both Gary and Norris exceeded my initial perceptions!
It was not until the end of Gary’s freshman year that the NBA was a possibility. He was on the cover of USA Today with Jason Kidd, while being named to a Freshman All-American Team with three other players who I can’t recall, all of whom were first-round NBA Draft choices.
With Norris, I didn’t realize his true potential until he competed in the Deron Williams/Chris Paul Skills Academy with Nike during the summer prior to his senior year. He out-performed guards ranked higher [than him] and players who attended BCS schools. He put himself on the map and our staff began to hear from the higher ups at Nike, along with agents, other major DI coaches, and other high-profile players as we ran into them during our July recruiting travels.
SLAM: And so with this sort of insight and vision about those young men, what had been your role in shaping their development individually?
JG: My role in shaping these young men as people started the second I met them. Specifically, I try not to sound like a salesman. The first thing I try to convey to my players is that I care about them as people, and that I am interested in making a significant impact in their life that will last the next 40 years, not just four.
From there, I try to earn their trust and have a platform to speak into their lives. Initially, because of their athletic prowess, they have lots of people who have given them advice and attention. I know the initial way to separate from that is to be a man of my word and let them know about my faith in God. This approach has allowed me to serve as a mentor to both these young men.
I have encouraged and supported Gary from afar over the years, while encouraging him to get married and take pride in his family. Gary also left Ohio University early (after his junior year) to turn pro. Every opportunity I had, I encouraged him to finish his degree. I know for a fact he is either finished or has just a few classes remaining to earn his degree.
With Norris, with the lockout, he has remained in Cleveland and has been a positive influence to our young players. It has been nice to continue to speak into his life. Norris is blessed with two great parents who have done an outstanding job molding him. I have served as a mentor to him and assist him from a distance. I text him a scripture verse daily and I am always there if he needs me.
SLAM: Specifically with Norris, given your close relationship and understanding of him and his abilities on the court, why do you believe that he wasn’t a serious NBA prospect long before his senior year at Cleveland State?
JG: He played on the same HS team with Daequan Cook (of the Oklahoma City Thunder and former McDonald’s All-American) and Aaron Pogue (current Cleveland State senior), who was a top-50 recruit. They received all the headlines and the attention and Norris was overlooked. He also continued to improve. I felt his evaluation in HS was correct (low-major); however, no rating could evaluate his desire to work, as well as his submission to coaching that enabled him to improve to the level he reached.
As a freshman, he came off the bench. It took him 11 games to make his first three-pointer. The last 10 games of the year, he averaged close to 10 points per game. His sophomore year, he started at the off-guard while Cedric Jackson (former NBA player for the Cleveland Cavs, Washington Wizards and San Antonio Spurs during the 2010 season) was our starting point guard. In every big game (24 points vs Syracuse, 27 points vs Wake Forest), Norris shined! He again finished strong and his future certainly skyrocketed from there.
Also, he attended Cleveland State. A team mired in a 20+ year post-season slump and very little name recognition and credibility. We finished in last place the year before he arrived and in a very short period of time, we won the Horizon League championship, thanks to Norris. We didn’t garner the national respect as a team that we deserved and he did not receive the national respect he deserved until his senior year.