Hoops and hustle: Searles’ hard work propels him toward success on court

Jaylen Searles, a junior communication studies major from Everett, Washington, blocks an attempted basket by the Southern Utah University Thunderbirds. Searles contributed to the team’s victory of 70-68 with 13 points and three steals during the game Feb. 8. Cora Mark | Sun News Daily

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From battling through junior college challenges to standing out at Utah Tech, one Trailblazer’s athletic journey to the NBA is far from over.

Jaylen Searles, a junior communication studies major from Everett, Washington, played basketball at two different junior colleges before making his way to Utah Tech University. He hopes Utah Tech can be a stepping stool to boost him to his end goal of becoming a professional basketball player. 

Searles was recently awarded the Western Athletic Conference’s TicketSmarter Player of the Week award, the Western Athletic Conference’s Newcomer of the Week award, and the Intermountain Overachieving Athlete award for the two-game stretch he had Feb. 8 and Feb.10.

Searles had a career-high of 33 points against California Baptist University Feb. 10. His 33-point performance is the second-highest scoring performance by any Utah Tech player in the program’s Division I history.

Searles’ teammate Trey Hall, a sophomore communication studies major from Willimantic, Connecticut, said he sees the work that Searles puts in, and he is excited that he is getting the recognition he deserves. 

“There are a lot of athletes out there that say they love his game, but they’re not doing the little things that he is doing to earn those accolades,” Hall said.

Searles’ journey to get him to Utah Tech has been unique. He is not the only junior college transfer on the team, but he is the only one to play at two different junior colleges. He started his college basketball career at Central Wyoming College back in 2020.

During his first season at CWC, COVID-19 started. During the beginning of his second year on the team, he was kicked off due to poor grades. 

“I was ready to quit basketball for a second,” Searles said. “But then I just got back in the gym and reached out to all the top 25 junior colleges in the country.”

Only one of the 25 schools that Searles reached out to got back to him to give him another chance, Southeastern Community College in Iowa.

He played the entire 2022-2023 basketball season there. During the season, he averaged 11.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 2.2 assists per game in 33 starts. He was named First Team All-Region 11, and he was also named an All-American

After his time at SCC, he was recruited to Utah Tech before the start of this year.

Head coach Jon Judkins said Searles was the perfect athlete that the team needed, especially with his prior collegiate experience at the JUCO level. 

“Look at him, he’s athletic, he’s long,” Judkins said. “One thing that we have struggled with in years past was having a guy that was long and athletic.”

Judkins said after getting on the phone and talking to Searles, it felt like the right fit for him to come play for the Trailblazers.

Searles said he knew that Utah Tech was the right fit for him as well. His favorite part about Utah Tech is the Burns Arena.

“It’s just fun to play in,” Searles said. “It’s a really big, good environment.”

Since the start of this season, Searles has played in all 26 games and started in 24 of those games for the Trailblazers.

During Searles’ basketball journey, he has continued to work hard despite any challenges he has faced.

Hall said: “I’ve seen the work that he [Searles] puts in behind the scenes. Coming back at night, getting up shots, the way he meal preps throughout the week, little things that he does that other athletes don’t.”

“I just look at it [playing D1] as the jobs not finished,” Searles said. “My ultimate goal is the NBA.”