July 23, 2024

A long way from Chicago

This archived article was written by: Chase Castleberry

“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”
-Larry Bird.
The game of basketball requires self discipline, focus, determination and ultimately, 100 percent effort all the time. Jaleni Neely, starting guard for the USU Eastern Golden Eagles, achieved these requirements. He has been a great example on and off the court for his coaches and teammates, and has a genuine passion for the game of basketball.
Coming from Chicago, Ill., Neely said, “Chicago is an experience, it’s a lot different than Price, even though there’s a lot of violence, I love being from Chicago, I can’t wait to get home.” Even though he loves living the big city lifestyle, Neely loves living in Price. “I like community and the people in general, they welcome you with open arms. Everyone is friendly.”
Often times, sports fans have an opportunity to watch their favorite athletes perform. Popular athletes like Lebron James, Derek Jeter or Kobe Bryant. What if you had a chance to play with one of these outstanding athletes? Neely played side by side with rising basketball star, Jabari Parker, who plays at Duke. They both grew up together and played on the same high school team that dominated the prep scene. His team, Simeon Career Academy, was the No. 1 team in the nation and won the Illinois state championship the past three years.
Besides Neely and Parker, the team consisted of Kendrick Nunn who plays for the University of Illinois; Steve Taylor, who plays at Marquette and Kendal Pollard who plays at Dayton. “The funny part about all these guys is Pollard was the least talked about on our high school team, but Dayton’s team went the farthest in the NCAA Tournament this year.
“It was a heck of an opportunity playing,” Neely said, “My job was easy playing alongside with him [Parker], getting him the ball in the right position and leaving it up to him to score made the game simple.” Neely has known Parker since they were 10 years old. “I have learned a lot from him, to always be humble and count your blessings. Never take a day for granted. He’s one of the most humble guys in the world.” Even today, these two-talented basketball players swap texts and keep in touch.
After high school, Neely wanted to take his talents to the next level. Growing up, Neely became close friends with USU Eastern assistant coach, Justin Brown. “He’s a role model to me,” Neely said. “He’s a successful guy and now he’s giving back.” Coach Brown took the assistant coaching job at Eastern, and Neely followed, but that wasn’t the only reason Neely wanted to come, “The main reason I came to Price was because I wanted a better opportunity to win.” Neely exceeded his expectations and played a key role for the Golden Eagles.
Becoming a college athlete is a difficult process, and the life style is challenging. “It was a tough adjustment from high school to college on and off the court,” Neely said,” Nobody to wake you up to go to class, it’s a grown-up stage.” Even basketball itself seemed to have its own challenges, “The speed of the game changed. College teams are pretty good; they know how to play basketball like you.” Regardless of all these changes, Neely made all the necessary adjustments to become a qualifying star for the Golden Eagles. This season alone, this talented sophomore started almost every game averaging over 14 points a game, and ending the season scoring 412 points and 27 steals.
Playing a key role for the Golden Eagles, Neely led the team to an impressive record of 21-9, winning 11 home games. His love for the game helped drive his team to the regional tournament, but fell short to CSI, “It was a hard one to take in, but our guys left it all on the court, we gave what we had and came up short.” Despite the results, Neely was proud of his team.
College basketball is always an exciting sport, especially this time of year. When we watch these athletes on the court, what do we see? A player that scores 14 points a game? A player that ends the season with 27 steals? Or do we see a player giving all he can for his love for the game? “I play basketball every day and I love it with a passion,” he said, “Play the game the right way, because tomorrow has no promise.”