ROCK SPRINGS – Former Western Wyoming Community College guard Jalen Blaize is heading to Warrensburg, Missouri.
The National Junior College Athletic Association Region IX champion recently announced his commitment to join the University of Central Missouri Mules after spending two years as a Western Wyoming Community College Mustang.
Blaize said finding the right situation for himself and his family to continue his education was the biggest factor in his decision process.
“First off, Central Missouri was one of the few schools that had my major, which is sports management. That was one of the factors that took my attention,” he said. “The campus is really nice. When I met with the coaching staff and some of the players, they were really welcoming. It was like a family environment like I had this past year at Western Wyoming, so that came into play as well.”
Because of the pandemic, the recruiting procedure was different and more difficult than in years past.
“It was kind of annoying because you couldn’t go on visits. Everything is just over the phone and you just got to go with word and mouth or film. I couldn’t really have any face-to-face interaction. It was different,” Blaize said.
During his sophomore season at Western Wyoming, Blaize averaged 8.3 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.3 assists per game. He was a prolific shooter, shooting 39% from the field, 40% from 3-point range and 76.5% from the free-point line.
He said he saw development in his game in his two years playing under head coach Steven Soza, especially his approach to the game.
“I think the best way my game improved is not really on the court, but mentally and how I see the game. I feel like playing under coach Soza for two years and him being so attentive to detail, it kind of rubbed off on me and changed the way I view the game. I think that helped me mature my game on the court,” he said.
Blaize was influential in the Mustangs’ historic 2019-2020 season, which ended with a Region IX championship and the program’s best record at 30-4.
Last season, Central Missouri finished 10-18 overall and 5-14 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association. He believes his winning experience at Western Wyoming can help his new squad can help develop that winning culture, similar to what he helped create as a Mustang.
“Coming from a winning program, I can bring that winning attitude,” he said. “I can come in and just find any way to contribute and help the team win, whether it’s encouraging guys on and off the floor or leading by example. Whatever coach asks of us and just going out there and doing it.”
Team chemistry is important to Blaize and said that’s the key for a team to being successful on the court.
“I think team chemistry is one of the most important things when it comes to a winning team and having a winning season,” he said. “If you don’t like the guys you’re playing with, I don’t think you’re going to mesh well together on the court. Having that brotherhood and being able to count on the next man, that’s one of the most important things to have as a team.”
Blaize, who lives in New York which is one of the nation’s hot spots for the COVID-19 pandemic, said he’s been doing anything he can to stay busy and work on his game.
“When I first got back home, that’s when COVID-19 was at its peak in New York, so I was just staying inside for the first couple of months. As things started to die down a little bit, I started to go to certain parks where they left the hoops up. I started running and putting up shots and anything that I could find to do to keep myself busy,” he said.
Blaize has been in constant communication with his new coaching staff and has chatted with several of his new teammates via zoom call meetings.
“Just recently, I got a Zoom call with the team and some of the coaches to get to know the names and faces. Usually around this time, we would already be on campus, but with this pandemic going on, everything has changed and continues to change every day,” he said.
Blaize joins several former Mustangs who have gone on to compete at the next level this offseason, including Manel Ayol, Trey Marble, LeChaun Duhart, Sindou Cissee and Trevor Trost. He said they helped change the culture at Western Wyoming and said his favorite moment was cutting down the nets after winning the Region IX championship.
“It was special because the year before, we weren’t that good and the four sophomores, including myself, who returned, we talked about it after the season and was like, ‘We have to come back and win everything next year.’ Since we did that, it was something special,” he said.
“Coming in, I’m not too sure what the record was like before we got there, but I know it wasn’t so good. When we got up there, we were transitioning into becoming that good team – kind of like a powerhouse. Then the next year, we added a couple of pieces that we needed and that really put us over the hump.
“I feel like we definitely changed the culture at Western.”