Photo by Gerald Castillo
Walk-On: Shead Settles Into Role With Bobcats After Nearly Two Years Away From Basketball
Jaylen Shead gave up on basketball twice.
The 23 months Shead spent away from the game he loved were gruesome.
He lost his passion. Forgot what it was like to feel the adrenaline on the court. Shead didn’t feel important.
“I could come in (the gym) every day during that year and put up shots and work on my game but there’s no translation because I can’t play,” Shead said. “So, it just feels like you’re isolated. You’re by yourself. No one sees you. No one sees what you’re doing. It takes a lot and sometimes I would step away from it and then it would come back to me like, ‘Man, I love this game too much.’”
Texas State’s junior point guard began his collegiate career 1,575 miles away from San Marcos at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo, Calif. His stint with the Mustangs didn’t last long.
He loved his time with Cal Poly but left the program after playing in nine games during his sophomore season. He grew homesick, wanting to be closer to his family in Pflugerville.
“When I finally made the decision, you have to take into account the people that you’ve made connections with and it was hard leaving everybody that I knew out there and all the culture I had gotten used to,” Shead said. “So, coming back home, I was just like, ‘You’ve got to do what’s best for you.’”
He returned to Texas in Dec. 2016 and enrolled at Austin Community College for the spring 2017 semester. Shead convinced Texas State head coach Danny Kaspar to allow him to visit and eventually walk-on to the team.
“He came on his own,” Kaspar said. “He approached us and said, ‘Would you be open to me walking on the team?’ And I said, ‘Yes, if you would pay your way and show us that your body can handle this and that you have an attitude that we can live with, we’ll give you a scholarship your senior year.’"
Shead arrived on campus in the fall of 2017. He was forced to sit out a season due to NCAA transfer rules. He suffered a knee injury that kept him from practicing for most of the 2017-18 campaign.
The Bobcats quickly knew they had a player that could make an immediate impact. But Kaspar and the staff didn’t really see what Shead was capable of doing until after last season.
Shead finally made his return to the game on Nov. 9, 2018 against Air Force, where he made his first start for Texas State.
“(The Air Force game) was nerve wracking because not only did I transfer but I transferred at the semester mark, so in between games it was 23 months,” Shead said. “That’s almost two years, so it was getting used to the adrenaline rush and the flow of the game again but I really enjoyed it.”
Shead began playing basketball at four years old against his dad’s wishes. Elvin Shead wanted Jaylen to play football instead. But once he saw his son on the court, Elvin became Jaylen’s coach.
Jaylen’s dad coached his AAU team through high school. He credits Elvin for teaching him the game.
“He made me keep myself well-rounded in every aspect from playing the one, two, three, four, five (positions) and also knowing what the one, two, three, four, five is supposed to do,” Jaylen Shead said. “I can credit him for all of my basketball IQ because he made me see everything.”
Shead was a three-year starter at John B. Connally High School in Pflugerville. During his senior year, he tallied 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists per game. He was named to the Texas Association of Basketball Coaches 5A All-Region III first team and the District 17-5A MVP in 2015.
Shead’s collegiate recruitment didn’t last long. He took one official visit to Cal Poly and committed during the summer between his junior and senior year.
The Pflugerville native played in 29 of 30 games during his freshman season at Cal Poly. He made nine starts and was second on the team in assists with 84.
Shead amassed eight points, 5.2 assists and 4.4 rebounds per game during his sophomore season before he decided to leave the Mustangs.
“(Cal Poly) was lovely,” Shead said. “It’s very expensive but I liked it. I felt like with basketball, I just wanted more, so I made the decision with my family to be closer to home.”
After nearly a year away from the game, Shead has become an important member of this year’s Texas State squad.
As the Bobcats’ starting point guard, he’s become a ‘glue guy,’ Kaspar said. He averages 6.7 points and 4.2 rebounds per game. He’s third in the Sun Belt in assists at 4.7 per contest. He’s the conference leader in assist-to-turnover margin with a 2.6 ratio.
“He’s probably our best defender,” Kaspar said. “He’s our best passer. He’s one of our best rebounders. He’s hit some clutch shots, including some clutch free throws. He’s added some toughness to this team. He’s added some leadership to this team. He’s a good basketball player.”
Shead’s vision on the court has made him a threat. He’s able to find open guys with ease. He takes advantage of what defenses give him and goes on the attack when needed.
“It’s been fun playing with him,” senior guard Tre Nottingham said. “He’s unselfish with the ball. He knows where everybody is going to be on the floor. He knows what type of tempo we need to play at. He pressures the ball.
“I love when he’s driving to the lane when I don’t think he sees me and he sees me and I end up with the ball and he ends up getting an assist.”
Nottingham says Shead is a calm person off the court.
The junior guard is a cinephile. Shead claims he’s seen every ‘50s and ‘60s movie. He and his father used to sit around watching John Wayne films like “McLintock!”
He listens to a wide array of music from pop to hip-hop, country and rock. He’s hesitant to name a favorite artist but if you ask he’ll tell you Drake because of the Canadian rapper’s range of sound.
He likes to go “swangin’” when he’s with his teammates in the car, driving from side to side to the beat of a song – a style popularized in Houston.
“It’s like a little comedy,” Nottingham said. “He’s a character. It’s a slow beat and he’ll just be swerving to it. He’s a totally different dude off the floor ... He’s a cool guy.”
On the court, Kaspar believes Shead should be in contention for Sun Belt Newcomer of the Year.
Shead nearly gave up on his sport. But 27 months later, he’ll soon earn his scholarship and potentially be named a Sun Belt champion. Shead and everyone around him are benefiting from his persistence
“My family and the people that supported me, they kept me going on a daily basis,” Shead said. “I talked to my mom, my dad, my closest friends, they all wanted to see me play again. So, I felt like at that point, I wasn’t just doing it for myself, I was doing it for the people who cared about me.”