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Jayden Ross: Everything Changes
UConn freshman Jayden Ross is accustomed to things changing quickly, so don't be surprised about what should come next this season.
5’8”. That’s how tall our featured prospect was to begin his high school playing days. If you were to look for the list of players who are listed at 5’8” that are on NBA teams, you wouldn’t find any. Scouts from major universities aren’t lining up for just any player listed at that size. One must be the outlier of outliers to take command of a basketball court. This typically means that the options available for most players of that stature are slim to none.
This may explain why many college hoop fans would not be overly familiar with our featured prospect, Jayden Ross. In an interview that took place in June 2022 with Adam Finkelstein of 247 Sports, Jayden gave a recap on what his recruitment process was like leading up to his commitment to Connecticut:
Ninth grade, there really wasn’t too much going on for me. Then COVID hit, and that’s when I really started to use that time to develop my game. Then around this time last year, I got my first offer from Howard [University] in April.
In the world of sports fandom, the impacts of COVID are just a memory. For both college athletes and aspiring ones, the imprint of the pandemic is still posing lingering effects on their basketball journeys.
“In my ninth grade year…COVID hit. Throughout all of COVID—it was a bit of a blessing, in a way…right when COVID hit is when I started to grow. I went from about 5’10” at that point to about 6’4”, 6’5”. And then, I’ve grown about two or three inches since then.
During that time—during COVID—I was just staying in shape, working on my game every single day. Just being able to use that time to adjust to my growth, and to try and maintain everything that I had as a smaller player to use it to my advantage as a bigger player…it allows my game to be very versatile.”
That interview, among others, and his verbal commitment to UConn seemed to steer his perception among recruiting outlets. In August of that same year—his senior season—Rivals moved Jayden from being unranked to the 106th prospect. By the National Signing Day, Jayden would end up being ranked 80th overall. While being able to draw the interest of schools like Towson, Howard, George Mason, Penn State, and Virginia Tech, Jayden did not get the same national recognition as others within his class.
“In ninth grade I wasn’t really getting looked at too much. 10th grade hit, we didn’t play again—I didn’t play AAU that year. But, we did have one game—I think I had like 18 points. I don’t think we won, but I played alright for our first game in like a year or so.
My coach at the time sent out some film, which sparked some interest. And then I went to AAU, and it just started to pick up from there.”
Even during the time of the aforementioned interview with 247 Sports, it was titled “3-star SF Jayden Ross COMMITS to UConn”. By the time National Signing Day came around, he was regarded by virtually every outlet as a 4-star prospect. Not only had Jayden grown in perception, but also in frame. Starting out at 5’8”, he reported to UConn at 6’7”.
As if changes in frame and recognition weren’t enough, Ross now has to grow accustomed to playing for a program that has championships in its blood. The UConn Huskies are the defending NCAA champs, featuring a number of high-profile prospects on their current roster, while also having some of their championship team undergoing their rookie season in the NBA. Roles and responsibilities need to be defined, filled, and executed for this university, and Jayden is in prime position to make an impact.
When turning on the Jayden Ross tape, it doesn’t take long to see why Connecticut would be interested in his game. He appears to be as long as advertised, he has a nice fluidity to his game, it’s easy to see that he grew up with ball skill, and the athleticism looks like it will help him carve out a role early on in his collegiate career.
During his time at Long Island Lutheran, Jayden ranked in the 85th percentile in overall offense. Like most prominent, young wings, he grades out well in transition. But what stands out regarding Ross’s style of play is how mature he appears to be in the halfcourt. It is the poise he has in set plays—in how he can complement a variety of styles—that has me very high on this unheralded freshman.
Off the Ball
On spot-up opportunities, Jayden grades out in the 86th percentile (Excellent). What makes him a viable potential NBA wing begins with his size. One of the best things anyone can do when watching film is to ask “who looks like an NBA player?” Depending on the player type, appearances can differ, but, for NBA wings, size and length should be the starting point. That is where Ross stands out, literally.
Jayden (#11) has the requisite size and length for an NBA-caliber perimeter player. Listed at 6’7”, he has a smooth jumper with a nice release point. In the featured play shown above, Jayden has a keen sense of knowing where to present himself to his teammates. The play is broken at the beginning, as the layup is blocked. After seeing his teammate corral the offensive glass, Ross readies himself at the top of the key for an easy three-point play. The contest isn’t the greatest, but it isn’t necessarily weak, either.
For players that don’t have the stroke of Jayden, their shot may have been bothered. Jayden steps into his shot with confidence, knowing that the defense isn’t anywhere close to a shooter of his magnitude. Again, who looks like an NBA player on the floor? It’s Jayden.
With shooting prospects, it’s not enough to be a stationary threat. It’s something that we discuss all of the time as evaluators: What else can you do?
In this play, AZ Compass is well aware of the threat that Jayden can be as a shooter. After getting the ball from his teammate, Ross doesn’t shoot it immediately, but he isn’t scratching a record either. As soon as the ball hits his hands, our guy goes directly to a jab step to the right, dribbles to his left, and hits a movement three-pointer. The ability to relocate on his own accord is impeccable. Despite moving, Jayden’s upper body stays squared up and beautifully falls through the bucket. That “what else-ness” he brings as a shooter only makes him more valuable at his size.
The poise in Jayden’s game I referenced earlier stands out in the play above. It displays another answer to the “What else?” question that has to be asked when evaluating shooting prospects. When a shooter gets cooking, the easy response from a defense is to sell out on the jumper and let whatever comes next happen. Well, what comes next here isn’t something a defense wants to live with. Jayden sells the heck out of this pump fake—which mirrors his actual shot perfectly. After getting his initial defender in the air, our guy does something that any coach will smile about.
Ross doesn’t take a dribble and settle for a middy. No, instead he picks up a head of steam and throws down a two-handed dunk with three defenders rushing to recover. The defense got caught napping, assuming that this shooter was just going to shoot. The nose for the rim provides diversity to his game, as Ross graded out in the 86th percentile in at-rim plays—which accounted for 25% of his shot types.
The rest of the shooting indicators at Long Island Lutheran:
Catch and Shoot: 76th percentile
Guarded Jumpers: 86th percentile
Unguarded Jumpers: 67th percentile
Three Point Percentage: 39.8% (41/103)
Continuing with the trend of “What else?” here, shooting players have to show some sort of connective ability. One such indicator of connective ability is the often criticized assist-to-turnover ratio. Like most stats, this isn’t an end-all-be-all stat—there is no such thing. However, having a positive assist-to-turnover ratio in the high school ranks can certainly give evaluators a glimpse of who they are as a decision maker.
Ross had a 1.1 assist-to-turnover ratio for the Crusaders, as he tallied 43 assists to 39 turnovers.
In plays like this one, it’s easy to see that the 5’8” version of himself still exists inside of Ross—in the best of ways. First of all, this play is only possible because of the threat Jayden poses as a shooter. Receiving a nice skip pass on the left wing, our guy has two defenders scramble to contest his shot. He fakes left upon catching the ball—which is brilliant because it forces the defenders to commit to a decision. Both stay with him.
Jayden dribbles to the top of the key to draw both defenders away from the corner. This gives his teammate in the dunker spot a wide-open lane to work with. Ross wastes no time here, just taking one dribble and whipping a pass to the block for an easy dunk.
Shooting gravity makes life easier for players who apply pressure.
Making plays quickly is in everyone’s best interest on offense. It’s not a major revelation for me to say that the longer the ball is stopped, the easier it is for a defense to recover. On the inbound play above, we see two things take place simultaneously that make this play successful. For one, Ross’ teammate making quick movements to keep his defender uneasy creates an opening for himself. He provides the means to make a play available.
On the other side—on the part that executes the opportunity—Jayden does the manipulation. The subtle eye manipulation and quick pass fake forces the defender to play in front of his man. That leaves the back cut open. That quick, subtle, and vital initial movement between two teammates leads to a beautiful play.
The feel and confidence Ross has in his connective abilities give yet another answer to the “What else?” question.
The defense for Jayden Ross is intriguing, but it is not at the same level as the offense. That’s OK. Jayden does require some fine-tuning in certain aspects of his game—as do most young players. While the defensive side of the ball does need more attention, Jayden isn’t without skills or tools that give plenty of optimism that it can get to the same level as his offense.
To contextualize his defense output, Ross is ranked within the 57th percentile (Good) on overall defense with the Crusaders. That was on 115 defensive possessions. Jayden recorded more “stocks” than he committed fouls as a defender, totaling 29 steals and eight blocks. That type of defensive output is a sound foundation for Coach Hurley to work with.
Jayden’s length stands out in the film and should be heavily utilized on the defensive side of the ball. This clip above is a great example of how his length can help him in recovering on shooters. Jayden helps on the drive, sliding down to the block to deter the layup. As the ball is kicked out to the corner, our guy is able to hit the turbo and actually get a piece of the ball.
The majority of play types that Jayden was credited for defending were spot-ups, and he was assessed as being “Average” (40th percentile). This is what drove his overall defense down to being in the 57th percentile, as he spent over 43% of his time against spot-ups defensively.
Defending the Drive
This play shows a little bit of what Jayden brings on defense, while also showing some areas he needs to improve. To speak to the result first, Ross forced a missed—which is ultimately what you want to see. He displays good strength and screen navigation to keep up with his assignment as he faces up. What Ross needs to improve upon is closing off the drive angle.
His man catches him with his body parallel—his base is in line with the baseline. This is a tough way to man up, as any quick drive will force Jayden to start off in a recovery position. It happens instantly too, as the ball handler drives to the right. Ross crosses his feet instantly and has to play catchup. Jayden displayed the commitment to stick with his man and contest the shot but, as he is now playing against more difficult competition, the likelihood of his man missing the shot at the basket goes down drastically in college.
The good news—and what should be encouraging—is that this is very coachable, and Jayden is a coachable player.
What is incredibly hard to coach—if it is at all possible—are instincts.
This clip is of a wing player, not a center—not a forward.
Jayden cuts his man off from getting a chance to catch the ball in the mid-post, forcing them to rotate over to the weak corner. That puts Ross in help. From the way he surveys the floor, to the way he positions himself, Jayden shows remarkable help instincts. Jayden’s first effort forces a pass out of a shot attempt, but he doesn’t stop there.
As the pass is delivered, our guy gets out to the next shot attempt from the baseline cutter. The ball tracking on display here is top-notch. Understanding the pending shot angle is the first step in blocking the shot, and that is exactly what Ross does in blocking the shot.
Other notable defensive indicators:
Pick-and-Roll Ball-Handler Defense: 53rd percentile (Good) (22 possessions)
Isolation Defense: 82nd percentile (Excellent) (16 possessions)
Off Screen Defense: 35th percentile (Average) (11 possessions)
Jayden Ross joins the defending NCAA Champions, the UConn Huskies—a team that has a good blend of upperclassmen as well as five freshmen. The goal for the program remains the same: win another ring. From an outsider’s perspective, Jayden might not get an inordinate amount of playing with the return of players like Alex Karaban and Tristen Newton, and also acquiring Cam Spencer via the transfer portal and recruiting Stephon Castle. Whatever playing time Jayden gets, it will be earned.
“I’m working on my strength an my weight. I’ve probably gained about 10 to 15 pounds since I’ve been here…Playing in the Big East, one of the more physical conferences in the country, it’s something that I think will help get me on the court.
Aside from that…I’m working on my ball handling and my finishing. My shooting is at a point to where it’s pretty consistent. I think my defense is getting to a point to where it’s pretty consistent—it’s a bit of an adjustment, obviously, between high school and college, learning reads and adjustments.”
Reports out of Storrs are that Ross has been practicing very well, coming off an impressive European tour where he averaged just under seven points, two rebounds, and over one steal per outing. Assistants from the UConn staff, as well as folks within the NBA, have been very impressed with his communication skills on defense, his willingness to take on multiple roles on both sides of the ball, and his ability to contribute without dominating the ball. It may not be this season that we see him make the leap to the NBA, but the feeling by most within and outside the program is that it will be a matter of when, not if, Jayden will be in the association.
“One thing that’s important in the NBA is the character and the personality. I think I have that to go with it [my game] as well. I don’t have a big ego. I think I can represent the league well. I think I could add to a team or a culture in that way, outside of just being on the court.”
Whenever that time comes, we should expect Jayden to do what he has been doing to this point: adapt to change and seize the opportunity.
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