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The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

The student voice of Washington State University since 1895

The Daily Evergreen

Jaylen Wells: The hidden gem unlocking WSU’s potential

Two-way forward went from overlooked to impossible to miss
Jaylen Wells high-points the ball as he looks to make a play, Jan. 13, in Pullman, Wash.

Flashback to April 18, 2023. At exactly 11 a.m., a Sacramento-born Division II basketball player from Sonoma State, a team coming off a 13-17 season, took to X (then Twitter) to make his announcement. 

Intermittent with emojis, the post read, “The Next Chapter. Go Cougs. #Committed.” That basketball player’s name is Jaylen Wells and unbeknownst to him, he is about to help take the WSU men’s basketball team to heights not seen in over a decade. 

Wells has earned the respect of his coach, his teammates, the Cougar faithful and most importantly, himself. 

At the start of the season, Wells did not get the same playing time he is now accustomed to. In the opener, he saw the floor for just two minutes, in game two he subbed in for just four minutes. Nursing an injury, he was unable to work as hard as he wanted in the gym and, therefore, could not make the impact he wanted. 

“When I was playing low minutes, I wasn’t really mad. I didn’t think I deserved it. I didn’t think I was working as hard as I usually would,” he said. 

He said he quickly got over the fear of re-aggravating his injury and got back to work. Wells is currently working on a 14-game streak of logging 30-plus minutes as a mainstay in the starting five. 

Playing at least 75% of each game, Wells has brought his season averages to 11.7 points, 4.4 rebounds and 1.0 assists per game while shooting 44.0% from the field and, importantly, 44.5% from three-point land. 

“I obviously think I deserve to be on the floor now,” Wells said. 

Going from D-II basketball to Division I is not a seamless transition. There are stark differences. He went from three players converging on him when he drove with the ball at Sonoma State to draw no more than one extra defender, but his ability to adapt has not shocked head coach Kyle Smith. 

“Not completely shocked in some regards,” Smith said. “I got a good hunch that he was good. Just his approach to things.” 

Smith compared Wells’ work ethic and playing tenacity to that of NBA veteran Matthew Dellavedova, whom he coached while as an assistant for Saint Mary’s in the late 2000s.

“He’s a tiger about taking care of his body, getting his shots up,” Smith said. 

His work ethic is something he said he prides himself on. Having that Kobe mentality, he never wants to know that he is being outworked, he does not want to even give people the chance. Another player that he models his game on is another NBA great, Dwayne Wade. Although a lot of his game comes from his trainers, not the professionals he looks up to. 

“I feel like a lot of my game comes from my trainers. Dante Miller down in Sacramento; Danielle Viglione, she was one of the greatest shooters at University of Texas,” Wells said. “I feel like a lot of it comes from just my circle that I surround myself with.” 

That dedication to his craft has been one of many catalysts to the Cougs success, a major reason they are 21-7 and ranked No. 19 in the AP poll. He’s been a consistent piece of the puzzle, tallying double-digit scoring nights in every game from a stretch that ran from Jan. 4 – Feb. 4. 

But no performance will be remembered more fondly than the “Jaylen Wells” game. 

Against Arizona, on the road in Tuscon, Wells played his best game of the season. He scored 27 points in 39 minutes, shooting 9-of-16 from the field and 6-of-10 from three. In a vacuum, that is already enough to make him the game’s MVP, but there are 4 points that stand above the rest.

With under 30 seconds left, Wells caught the ball in the corner, drilled a three and drew the foul to eventually complete a 4-point play that got the Cougs the win to upset the Wildcats on their previously unbeaten home floor. 

“I caught the ball, I shot it. I didn’t see the rim,” Wells said on the shot. 

The Cougs have a clear on-court synergy that enables the heights they’ve reached in terms of successes in the win column in 2024. But, that might be thanks to the synergy off the court. 

“It really feels like we’re a family. We always look out for one another,” he said. 

One of his favorite recurring memories of the season is away from the court. He, Myles Rice, Spencer Mahoney and Isaiah Watts will sit at the table to eat food and will talk about how far they’ve come to get to the point where they’re playing for WSU, as well as other players on the team. 

Wells said they all acknowledge how amazing some of the stories that have intersected for the 2024 Cougs have been. He played D-II, Rice beat cancer to become one of the nation’s top freshman, there are several Junior College prospects and international players on the roster, all having their own path to being a Coug. 

“There’s a lot of different players that have a lot of different crazy stories on how they ended up at Division I. The way our team is compiled. we have something to prove, which is why I don’t think we ever get complacent,” he said. 

Another one of his favorite memories takes him back to California when the team played USC on the road. Getting to walk around the city a little bit before the game and seeing his teammates experience the area for the first time was nice for the California native. 

“Sometimes I think it’s good to just stop worrying about basketball and just take it in,” Wells said. 

This memory, however, is multi-faceted. On that USC team is one Bronny James, son of NBA legend LeBron James. 

“It’s crazy. You’re just casually playing with LeBron sitting courtside,” Wells said. 

A self-appointed LeBron fan, calling him one of the greatest basketball players to touch the game, there is one particular point of the game that stands above the rest. 

“My favorite moment of that game is seeing LeBron walk out early when the game was settled near the end,” he said. 

Wells’ increased confidence in himself and his teammates has been just another cog in his improvement from the season’s start to now. Even though he has been one of the most prolific scorers on the team, he will never hesitate to love to watch Rice and Isaac Jones go to work with the ball. 

Sometimes, you can spot Wells near half-court, ready to shoot but just as ready to watch his teammates get a bucket. 

“I know they’re gonna make something happen. If I get the ball, I’m going to shoot it, but I know they can get to work. I just have that confidence in those two just like that,” Wells said.

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About the Contributors
BRANDON WILLMAN, Multimedia editor
Brandon Willman is a junior multimedia journalism student from Vancouver, Washington. He started working as a sportswriter for the Daily Evergreen in Fall 2022 and worked as copy editor in spring 2023. Brandon was elected to be the Editor-in-chief starting in summer 2023 and served in the position from May 2023 to February 2024 before transitioning to the role of multimedia editor. He enjoys watching sports, backpacking, and watching horror movies.
COLE QUINN, Evergreen Sports Photographer
Cole Quinn is a photographer and columnist for the Daily Evergreen. Cole primarily shoots sports for the Daily Evergreen and writes album reviews in his spare time. Cole is a junior broadcast production major and sports communication minor from Snoqualmie, Washington. Cole started working for the Evergreen in the fall of 2020 as a photographer. Cole was the Photo Editor during his sophomore year and Deputy Photo Editor for the fall 2022 semester.

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  • Rusty WarwickMar 2, 2024 at 9:37 am

    Good article. Watched that game. He is a good coach. With revolving doors of who gets the most money of playing the next year was really glad to see WSU win the game against USC and Rodman.