A Unique Thresher: Bethel College's Jaylon Scott
It would be hard to find someone more versatile in college basketball this season than Jaylon Scott. On the court and off. Scott is a 6-foot-5 senior guard at Bethel College in the middle of Kansas, and an ultimate stat sheet stuffer. A regular double-double threat from the start of his career who has grown into a triple-double threat, he can take over a game scoring, rebounding, passing or defending. If anything, he’s more likely to dominate in the latter three areas than the first one. Scott is an NAIA All-American who, in lockstep with his head coach Jayson Artaz, has led Bethel from long being at or near the bottom of the Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference to a factor on the NAIA national scene. Off the court, Scott is an Academic All-American, a terrific student, a leader. He’s the embodiment of what many hope for in a student-athlete.
He even does the team’s laundry. One of the most unique, multi-talented and interesting players in college hoops plays at the NAIA level at tiny Bethel, a school of just over 500 students in North Newton, Kansas. That’s where Scott, even playing from a wing position, has been posting double-doubles from almost his first game as a freshman and has only continued to grow as a player since. Last year Scott averaged 16.5 points, 12.0 rebounds and 4.7 assists per game on his way to first team All-American honors. This year through 12 games he’s been even better: 20.3 points, 12.0 rebounds and 6.2 assists, numbers that included one of the more eye-popping double-doubles imaginable: 22 rebounds and 14 assists against Oklahoma Wesleyan on December 2nd, a game where he missed a triple-double only because he scored eight points, taking just seven shots in 40 minutes. Scott can do it all, and yet according to his coach his strengths go even beyond the numbers. “He has probably the greatest instincts I’ve ever seen,” said Artaz, “both defensively and as a rebounder, and now later in his career as a passer, too. He’s a 6-5 wing and averages 12 rebounds a game. I’ve seen him get steals you’d never anticipate. He’ll bait guys to do something and then get a steal. His instincts and feel for the game is something you can’t teach, and something that has made him truly great.” “The other thing stats don’t tell is how competitive he is,” Artaz continued. “He is one of the most competitive people I’ve been around. He takes things very personally, tries to be the best at everything he does. Just one of those things people either have or don’t, and he’s got it in spades for sure.” From the outside, Scott and Bethel might’ve seemed like an unlikely marriage at the start. Scott is a native of Allen, Texas, a suburb 30 minutes north of Dallas, and went to a high school that can be described as nothing short of massive. With an enrollment of more than 5,000, Allen High School is one of the biggest high schools in the state. Scott started on a Texas Class 6A championship team as a senior, part of a squad that would feature four future NCAA Division I signees including Isaiah Stevens, currently starring at Colorado State. With the talent on that team, Scott’s role was more as a defender and rebounder, which Artaz says may have resulted in him being overlooked a bit by other schools. Another member of the state championship team was Jordan Neely, a 5-8 guard who had committed to Bethel, six hours north of Allen up Interstates 35 and 135 in central Kansas. Scott also took a visit to the school, felt comfortable with the coaches and town, and with just one other offer from a junior college in Texas, made the decision to follow Neely to Bethel. With the move, Scott went from a high school of over 5,000 to the small town of North Newton, Kansas—population 1,814—and to a college in Bethel with an enrollment one-tenth the size of his high school. He also came in at a time of transition for the Bethel program. Though few had a name more appropriate than his for coaching basketball, Tony Hoops was also the school’s athletics director, and in Feb. 2018 he announced he would be stepping aside as coach that summer to concentrate on his administrative duties. Artaz was elevated to the head coaching position, his assistant for the previous four years who also had been involved in recruiting Scott, and officially offered Scott a commitment a month after he took over. “We saw him play, and loved his ceiling as a player,” said Artaz. “One thing his coach said was, leadership-wise, he was best leader he had coached. As I took over, we wanted guys who were winners, who were leaders, who competed hard. We wanted somebody we could build our program around, show everybody who could do little things.” “For me, when we came on our visit, it was genuine,” said Scott. “They were honest in what they were telling me, didn’t promise me anything. Coach Artaz was great, he communicated with me every day. They were very up front with what I was going to have to do. They believed in me, that I could develop and definitely help the program. It just seemed to be the best fit for me as a person—it fit my playing style.” Bethel was a struggling program when Scott arrived, one that hadn’t had a winning season since its first and only NAIA Tournament berth in 2004. The Threshers were in serious doldrums for much of that time, to the point where consecutive 12-win seasons in 2015-16 and 2016-17 under Hoops represented the high-water mark in a 14-year stretch. Scott’s impact was immediate. From 7-22 the year before he arrived, the Threshers finished 17-13 his freshman year. Despite starting just 13 of 30 games, Scott averaged a double-double (12.9 ppg, 10.3 rpg) and was named the conference’s top freshman, a third team all-conference selection and to the KCAC all-defensive team. Scott also took to small town Kansas quickly. “At first it was different obviously, coming from a huge school and going to a small school, but it definitely was easy,” said Scott. “It just felt right for me making the decision, and then from there the people in the town were genuine and nice.” The next year Bethel won 20 games for its best season in 20 years, and Scott averaged another double-double (13.3 ppg, 11.8 rpg) on the season. He was named the league’s defensive player of the year and a second team all-KCAC choice.
If Scott and Bethel were lurking on the doorstep of the national scene the year before, they kicked the door down last year. The Threshers won the KCAC regular season and tournament championships and claimed an automatic berth to the NAIA’s 48-team championship, just its second national tourney bid in school history. The Threshers went to a three-team regional hosted by Northwestern (Iowa), won their opener against Voorhees (S.C.) for the first tourney win in school history, and then knocked off Northwestern to make the 16-team field at the final host site in Kansas City. Seeded 12th, Bethel opened against Shawnee State (Ohio), led late in the game and was within three with less than three minutes to play before the falling 69-59 to the team that would go on to win the national title. Individually, Scott wowed with back-to-back triple-doubles late in the season, including one against No. 3-ranked William Penn (Iowa). He was named KCAC player of the year and defensive player of the year, and was tabbed for first team All-American honors by the NAIA, Basketball Times magazine and the NABC. One of the special traits about Scott is that while he is a player who ‘can’ do it all, he doesn’t feel he ‘has’ to do it all, all the time. “Oklahoma Wesleyan made him the focus of their game plan, trying to stop him,” Artaz described. “So we talked to him before the game about being more of a playmaker. We talked to him about keeping his teammates involved, and being as coachable he is, he takes those things to heart. He’s someone who will completely sacrifice for team, so if right play is drive and kick it out, he’s going to make that play.” Each season Scott has added to his game. While he was expected to be a strong rebounder and defender, he has improved his shooting and scoring, and also has become an outstanding passer. “Coming out of high school, he was not much of an offensive player,” said Artaz. “His freshman year, we used to give him a hard time, he could barely make a left-handed layup. He got better in that area. His sophomore year, he really improved his finishing around the rim. His junior year, he improved his range out to 15 to 18 feet. This year, he improved his three-point shooting.” “He’s also gotten better as a playmaker,” Artaz continued. “Going into his junior year, he stayed on campus in the summer and had things he wanted to improve. He puts in a ton of work, he’s very conscious, he wants to watch film, and he wants to get in gym. He’s just really good about knowing what he needs to work on, and then not wasting time in gym but working on things that matter to him.” “My favorite part is passing, just getting the ball to other guys and them making shots brings joy to me,” said Scott. “I know at end of day, I can probably get 20 to 25 points, but that’s not the reason I play. Passing and getting others involved brings joy to me.”
On top of all his on-court superlatives, Scott also is a top-notch student. He was named a CoSIDA NAIA Second Team Academic All-American, the first in Bethel men’s basketball history to receive that honor. Scott is majoring in business administration with a minor in sport management and carries a 3.71 grade point average. “Out of all (honors), that’s the one I hold most dear to me,” said Scott. “It takes a lot to be a student-athlete at this level, it takes a lot of discipline. My mom always said you have to apply yourself, and instilled the importance of doing well in school. And the discipline, that’s the thing I take most. She had me on a routine that I have to do this before I play basketball.” Scott also credited his brother Kenton, saying “he motivates me as well, keeps me humble, supports me in all I do.” Scott acknowledged his father as well, and said the strong support keeps him grounded. “I will brag about him all day academically,” said Artaz. “He’s almost all straight A’s, he’s a perfectionist, wants to be good at everything.” That includes doing team chores. Scott has a job with the college that includes washing the team’s uniforms. “There were nights last year, after a tough game, he played 39 minutes, almost put up a triple-double, and he gathers up all jerseys, takes them out to the van,” said Artaz. “If anybody has reason not to do that, it’s the guy killing it on floor. He’s super thoughtful, does everything you could want one of your players to do.” Scott would like to continue playing after his career at Bethel is complete, to see where the game can take him. After that, he plans to work in the business field, with the eventual goal of owning a business. He still has his final season to finish, though, and another KCAC title and chance at the NAIA Tournament are the immediate goals. The Threshers came into the season ranked 8th in the NAIA top 25 coaches’ poll, and though they took some losses against a difficult schedule early—three by a combined nine points, and a fourth in overtime—they remained in the rankings. Regardless of where Bethel ends up at the end of the season, Scott and his fellow seniors will leave a program in a completely different spot from when he came in. “Coming into a program, Bethel wasn’t what it is now, wasn’t used to winning,” said Scott. “Over my four years, that’s something I’m most proud of. My class, we’ve been able to change the program, we expect to win, back when we started we were surprised to win.”
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