Jaylon Hall had feelings rushing through his body that he’d never experienced before in the seasonopener against Central State.
The Wright State wing was playing in his first game since a trip to Murray State on Nov. 10 last year. That was the day his shoulder finally fell apart for good, ending his sophomore season after one game and thrusting him into months of rehab.
Though he played in 33 games in 2017-18, averaging 9.1 points off the bench, his first career start Tuesday left him as jumpy as one of the team’s freshmen making his college debut.
“It was a whole lot of emotion,” he said of the 96-77 win. “I didn’t know how I’d feel. I didn’t know if I was going to be nervous or scared. I was just so full of everything.
“Once the ball tipped off, everything went out the window, and I took a deep breath. I felt like I was home. Sitting out that year, seeing the guys fight and battle, it felt so good to be out there with them.”
Hall did more than just share space on the court with his teammates. He made his first four shots before cooling some, finishing with 11 points and two assists with no turnovers in 25 minutes.
He’s one of the reasons there’s such much optimism around the Raiders. For the coaches, it’s like picking up a new recruit without having to make all the phone calls — one who is experienced and mature.
On a team where the top three players — Loudon Love, Bill Wampler and Cole Gentry — tend to need offensive sets to get their shots, Hall is athletic enough to generate scoring opportunities for himself.
“It’s going to open a lot of things up because he can create and make plays off the bounce,” Gentry said. “He’ll definitely help because he can really guard defensively and is an all-around great player.”
The 6-6 Hall, who needed surgery for a torn labrum and damaged rotator cuff, was a victim of friendly fire. He ran into a screen set by Love in practice, popping the shoulder out of its socket.
Though he was cleared physically, he didn’t look like himself throughout the offseason. On the exhibition tour of Italy in August, he still was in a funk.
“Really, just not playing for the whole year, I was trying to find my way with a new group of guys,” he said. “I had to see what my role was and establish myself again with my game.
“I still don’t feel like I’m where I’m going to be when we get to tournament time. But I feel I’m taking good strides right now.”
A fully functioning Hall will be a handful for opponents. As a freshman, he had a 16-point, five-assist game against Youngstown State and a 15-point, five-rebound effort against Oakland.
Coach Scott Nagy was pleased to see Hall have a productive opener offensively, knowing the player’s confidence was still fragile. But he believes the Houston, Texas, native can have an impact without scoring.
“What we mainly need him to do is guard. We need him to be our best wing defender. I don’t think he’s there yet, but he needs to get there for us,” Nagy said. “With his size and athletic ability, he should smother whoever he’s guarding.”
Hall has no trouble accepting that challenge.
“Sitting out that year made me hungry. It made me want to grow as a player and become a student of the game,” he said.
“I’m trying to pick my spots. I’m trying to figure out where I can get mine and make plays for my teammates. I want to be that defensive guy we can lean on, like we leaned on Mark (Hughes) the past four years. I’m trying to establish myself in my role without trying to do too much.”
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