Jaylen Searles dunked a basketball for the first time during the summer before his eighth-grade year at the Everett Family YMCA. It took more than a few tries, but Searles was determined.
“I just said to myself, ‘I’m (going to) get this.’ I finally got one. It was a big adrenaline rush,” he said.
It would be the first of many jams for Searles, now a 6-foot-7 senior at Jackson High School and one of the best players in the area. When the long-limbed Searles gets a steal and a run-out, the anticipation in the stands builds as he approaches the rim.
Searles said he doesn’t plan out his dunks in advance in these situations, preferring to let them flow organically.
“I just let it happen,” he said.
Jackson coach Steve Johnson said that the ability to entertain the crowd with his dunks provides a strong incentive for Searles to have active hands on defense.
“He’s got a very long wingspan and can bother and disrupt passing angles. If he gets a hand on the ball, he’s highly motivated to get the steal and go do things at the rim,” Johnson said. “He’s always been really athletic and can do some pretty impressive things with dunks.”
Of course, there’s more to being a standout basketball player than filling a highlight reel. Searles has worked hard, both with Johnson and on his own, at becoming a well-rounded player.
“If you look at every offensive category, or any way you can quantify it, he’s improved,” Johnson said. “Shooting, 3-point percentage, 2-point percentage, free-throw percentage, assist-to-turnover ratio, they’re all improved, and so is his ball-handling. Among all those, shooting from the 3-point line might be the most important because it’s opened up some other aspects of his game. Opponents have to respect him out there.”
The Herald spoke with Searles last week about becoming a team leader, his NBA dreams and of course, dunks.
How do you feel the season’s gone so far. You guys won six straight games after two losses to open the season. (Editor’s note: This interview took place before Jackson’s 68-52 loss to Mariner on Jan. 3). Are you feeling good about where you guys are headed?
I think that since those first two games we’ve improved a lot, and I’m happy that we’re improving, which is everything when it comes to basketball. You never want to go down in progress. I think we can make an impact in Wesco (4A).
Coach Johnson talked about how much you’ve improved, not just from last year to this year, but more so from your sophomore year to now. What parts of your game do you feel are most improved?
Probably my shooting and my basketball IQ, just the mental thing. I want to take basketball far and make something out of it. Why not do something that I love to do? I’m always working out, late nights by myself, even when I have tests the next day. I’m down at the Everett Y or outside by myself anytime I can.
Do you play AAU ball as well? How does playing there supplement what you work on during the high school season?
I play for Team LaVine’s 17-U, for Tayon Ary-Turner. I didn’t play there the whole summer, but we traveled a lot, down south to Alabama and out to Corona, California. It made me tougher, and playing against opponents like that, who are some of the top players in the country, made me fee like I could go into the high school season with confidence.
You played at Cascade as a freshman before moving to Jackson. Why did you switch?
We moved, and I’ve been friends with (Jackson teammates) Jesse Hoiby and Bryston Galbert all my life. I wanted to play with them in high school.
There are just two seniors on the team this year, you and Jesse Hoiby, after a strong core of seniors graduated last year. How do you feel you’ve done with an increased leadership role?
Me and Jesse knew we were going to have to step up. We try to teach the younger guys that we’re doing this to win, not just because. It’s serious now. We take our role really seriously and try to lead our team.
What are some of your individual goals?
My main goal is to play in the NBA or play professionally. I know that playing in college is a step I have to take to get there, but my main goal is the NBA.
Do you remember the first time you dunked in a game?
It was my freshman year against Lake Stevens, and it was on someone. I didn’t expect it to happen. It just happened.
Who’s your favorite NBA dunker?
Dennis Smith Jr. or Derrick Jones Jr. Their bounce is just crazy.
What are your plans for next season?
I’m talking to a few (NCAA) D-1 and D-2 schools. No offers yet. Just interest.
What do you think you might want to study, or pursue as a career?