The size of Corvallis, with about one-eighth the population of Jayden Stevens’ hometown of Spokane, didn’t push him away from pursuing Oregon State as a place to begin his college basketball career.
It’s what he enjoyed about it.
On an unofficial visit late last summer, the people he encountered were friendly and helpful. Those were big pluses in his book.
“I loved the atmosphere and I loved how it felt. I loved how good a relationship I had with the coaches,” Stevens said.
So, in April, the 6-foot-7, 190-pound forward signed with the Beavers, and he’s one of eight first-year scholarship players on the men’s team for the upcoming season.
The only hard part about coming to Oregon State, Stevens said, was having just two weeks of free time after high school graduation from Gonzaga Prep before heading for Corvallis.
Asked recently what he wants to accomplish in his freshman year in the program, Stevens said he just wants to win.
“That’s always been a big thing of mine,” he said. “I’m a competitor. My personal goals are to do whatever I can to get us back to where we need be.”
When Stevens signed, OSU coach Wayne Tinkle said the former three-star prospect was a little bit under the radar in recruiting because of minor injuries following his sophomore year of high school that limited his spotlight on the AAU circuit, as well as a shortened junior season due to the pandemic.
Stevens played center in high school, but Oregon State projects him as a small forward.
“He has good length and athleticism and plays with incredible pride and passion. He really competes out on the court,” Tinkle said. “He can score at all three levels and really has an understanding of how to space the floor. His size and willingness to defend will allow us to get back to guarding the way we’re used to.”
Tinkle said Stevens needed to add size and strength but that will and desire were attributes the young player already possessed.
Defensively, Stevens says he has a lot to learn and is adjusting to a faster pace that requires more thinking than in high school. To aid that, he’s been sitting through film sessions with Tinkle to see how he can improve and translate that to the court.
Stevens, who played shooting guard, both forward positions and center on his AAU teams, described his own game this way: “I kind of like to play scrappy. I like to get rebounds, I like to get put-back dunks and put-back tip-ins or tip it out and give the offense another chance to keep playing. I like to get to the rim and get downhill, attack the basket. I want to give my team some energy and help whatever way I can.”
Helping and guiding Stevens through his athletic career has been his mother, Shana Stevens. She’s been the provider, helping her son with money for anything from new shoes to AAU trips.
“It’s just been me and her all my life. She’s definitely my role model, definitely the person that has put me through basketball,” Stevens said.
On the court, a key influencer has been AAU coach Freddie Miller, whom Stevens has played for most of his basketball life.
“Some of the things he’s instilled in me, and some of the lessons that he’s taught me and being a father figure when my dad wasn’t there,” Stevens said. “He’s that type of guy. I wouldn’t be where I am without him.”
Stevens spent six years in Miller’s No Mercy for Failure club.
At Gonzaga Prep, Stevens was a second-team all-state selection after averaging 19.4 points and 9.2 rebounds as a senior. He was the leading scorer in the state tournament and named to the all-tournament team as a junior.
Twice during his high school career, Stevens played against fellow OSU freshman Tyler Bilodeau, who starred at Kamiakin High in Kennewick, Washington. Bilodeau and Kamiakin knocked Stevens and Gonzaga Prep out of this year’s state tournament with a consolation win.
The two were roommates and teammates during an Oregon-Washington all-star game earlier this year and are roommates again at Oregon State.
Stevens has drawn praise from other new teammates who have seen his abilities over the past few months.
“I like how hard he plays,” sophomore guard Christian Wright said. “Runs the court, is going to go get offensive rebounds. Dunks the ball. Very bouncy, springy. I love the way he plays.”
Added grad transfer forward Dzmitry Ryuny: “He has tremendous bounce, he can rebound really well. He needs to improve his shot a little bit more and understanding team defense. But other than that I think he’s going to have a great year.”
Stevens and Oregon State are heading to Italy, where the Beavers will play three games as they try to continue to build on the chemistry and progress they’ve made the past few weeks.
There are countless hours of practice remaining before the first official game in November. But Stevens likes where the team is heading.
“It’s a little early, but we’re going to work together, we’re going to be with each other,” he said. “We’re going to do everything we can to win, because I know this group has a bunch of character and we all want to win.”
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