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Tuesday, October 22, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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EWU transfer Wiley has come a long way

EWU basketball player Jake Wiley photographed, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
EWU basketball player Jake Wiley photographed, Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

The transformation of Jacob Wiley can’t be measured in years or miles, though it’s been quite a journey.

From the back streets of Long Beach, California, to the campus of Eastern Washington and every stop in between, Wiley learned something new about himself.

The latest self-affirming revelation came half a world away, in Australia, and it was a shocker: Wiley is a leader.

A graduate transfer from Lewis-Clark State, Wiley had joined the Eagles basketball program this summer. With several veteran players sidelined by injuries, the younger players were leaning on the 6-foot-7 newcomer in their first competitive games together.

“I wasn’t expecting that,” said Wiley, who’d been a follower most of his life. As a youth in Southern California, he stepped behind the wrong crowd and spent more time ditching classes than taking them.

During his freshman year, a teacher posed a trick question: How many players from his school had gone on the play sports in college?

“I said I didn’t know,” Wiley said.

“The teacher said I wouldn’t be one of them,” Wiley said.

In the nick of time, after his freshman year, Wiley was plucked from the mean streets of Long Beach and brought by his father to Newport, Washington, population 2,116. His grandparents lived there and Jake had visited as a youth.

Surrounded by family and a supporting atmosphere, Wiley thrived. His grade-point average soared from 1.6 to 3.1.

He also soared above the competition as a three-year starter in basketball and football. On the court, he averaged over 25 points, 10 rebounds and three blocked shots, earning attention from Division I schools.

But life wasn’t easy. His grandmother died midway through his junior year. A few weeks later, Wiley had a big game against Freeman at district.

The next morning, Wiley saw his name in a newspaper headline and story. He carried the paper to his father, who apparently was sleeping on the coach.

“He wasn’t breathing and I knew he was gone,” said Wiley, who moved in with his grandfather, near Diamond Lake. His mother still lives in Long Beach.

Gaining confidence, Wiley accepted an athletic scholarship at Montana.

“I admired him from back then,” EWU coach Jim Hayford said even as Wiley decided on a future in Missoula.

“But we all make mistakes in life,” Hayford said, tongue in cheek.

Wiley played 20 minutes a game on a team that reached the NCAA Tournament, but concluded that the Griz program wasn’t a good fit.

“I was still trying to figure out who I was,” Wiley said.

His sophomore year was spent on the track team, but basketball pulled at his heartstrings. “When March came around, I turned on the TV and I was watching March Madness.

“I said to myself, ‘Hey, I played in this thing last year,’” said Wiley, who contacted Hayford about a possible move. However, NCAA transfer rules would have meant another year away from the court, so he transferred to Lewis-Clark State.

As a junior power forward, he thrived at the NAIA level. By a quirk of the schedule, LC-State played an exhibition game at Eastern in December 2014. A measuring stick awaited him the form of Venky Jois, who helped lead the Eagles to an NCAA Tournament appearance that season.

In a closer-than-expected 87-81 loss at Reese Court, Wiley had 19 points, eight rebounds and five assists while holding his own against Jois.

Hayford filed that game away. So did Wiley, who went on to become an NAIA All-American while leading the Warriors to a two-year record of 54-13.

Halfway through the season, his fiancée, Brittany Hopkins, gave birth to Aliya. Meanwhile, Wiley was closing in on his his bachelor’s degree in communications, a first-in-the-family occasion that also forced some tough decisions.

Wiley could have stayed in Lewiston this year, purposely not graduating for the sake of one more year of basketball. Or he could take another big step, on and off the court.

Now he’s in Cheney with Brittany and Aliya, taking postgraduate classes. “Seven or eight years ago, I didn’t know what a master’s degree was,” Wiley said.

On the court, he hopes to fill the spot vacated by Jois, who’s playing professionally in Estonia.

“I try to study him and learn from him, but I don’t try to be like him,” Wiley said. “At the end of the day no two human beings are the same … I have my own game too.”

Fast and graceful, Wiley is already fitting in with the Eagles.

“People are going to be surprised at what he’s going to be able to accomplish at this level,” Hayford said.

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