In just their third year in the Western Athletic Conference, Cal State Bakersfield is looking for its first conference title; a win that would put them in their first ever NCAA tournament. While the team's success this year may have been overlooked by the "experts", perhaps no one knows that feeling more than junior Jaylin Airington.
When it comes to big shots, Jaylin has been the guy. But maybe his biggest shot came before he even stepped foot on CSUB's blue court.
Jaylin found his basketball toughness on the streets of East Chicago. "It was pretty rough," he said. "Crime rate was really high but my parents, they tried to keep me out of it. Kept me in church number one and made me play basketball."
He went to high school at Bowman Academy and won a state title but didn't receive a single offer to play in college. He was about to start working at McDonalds and was changing oil on the side when his family suggested he move out West.
He walked out at Ventura College and paid out of pocket his first year. "Just kept pushing, kept fighting and kept praying (for a chance)."
CSUB assistant coach Jeff Conarroe answered those prayers when he went to one of Jaylin's games and was shocked to find no one else recruiting him. Conarroe was the first coach to call Jaylin. "He kept calling," Airington said.
Head coach Rod Barnes then stepped in and wondered if he needed to do a background check. "Whenever we see a player of that caliber and no one's recruiting them, 'We're like hey what is going on?" he said.
CSUB signed Airington in the Fall of 2013 and since then his career has taken off. He finished this season third on the team on minutes and has contributed his most points in the game's biggest moments. "He's just got a calmness and a steadiness about him," said Barnes.
"He's our go to guy at the end of the shot clock and stuff like that and he's developed the ability to make shots when the game is on the line," said Conarroe. Last year he hit a buzzer beating game-winner against UMKC and this year had his best game against the Runners' toughest opponent New Mexico State.
"I love it. I don't get nervous," said Airington. "It's where I come from. There's really nothing to be rattled about. It's just another game." An attitude that's helped CSUB to their best season of Division-I basketball ever.
"They all have a chip on their shoulder and kind of feel like the underdogs. I think that they use that to their advantage a lot and Jaylin is certainly indicative of that," said Conarroe.
So if there was ever any thought that Jaylin was a recruiting gamble, he's played his part in paying it off.
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