Rejection is something Jaz Bains is familiar with — but it’s not something he accepts.
Sitting in the ARC’s alumni lounge, the current starting point guard for the men’s basketball team characterized his athletic career to The Journal as unconventional.
Albeit currently placed fifth among OUA scorers in points per game with 20.5 and leading the league with 6.2 assists per contest, Bains only began playing organized varsity basketball in his senior year of high school.
“High school was tough,” Bains, who transferred to Queen’s from St. Lawrence College over the summer, admitted. “In grade[s] 9, 10 and 11, I was cut from my high school [basketball] team.”
“[My high school] coach was just like, ‘You tried out for three years so I put you on [the roster],’” he recalled being told after his fourth tryout. The Gaels’ point guard’s former coach also said his minutes on the court would come sporadically.
A lack of floor time during his senior season — Bains said he would be his team’s first or second substitution off the bench regularly — garnered him little-to-no interest on the recruiting trail.
Upon graduating high school, Bains enrolled at Guelph Humber-College in 2012 hoping to kick-start his basketball career.
“Humber’s competitive [and] it’s a really good place for college basketball,” Bains said, explaining his reasoning for the move. When he was cut from the varsity team in his first year at the school, Bains played for the program’s junior-varsity affiliate.
“People get called up to varsity, so I was practicing with the varsity team and stuff, but [the coach] wouldn’t keep me because he said he had too many guys already,” he added. After two successive years of failing to make the program’s senior roster, Bains began to look elsewhere.
Despite not playing at the varsity level in college, Bains remained encouraged that his play would eventually attract a coach’s attention. “Keep working hard, keep going as hard as you can,” he remembered thinking to himself. “Have a chip on your shoulder.”
During a visit to St. Lawrence, his patience was repaid.
The school’s basketball coach showed him around campus and pitched the idea of playing for the program. Bains recalled the coach informing him committing to play for his school wouldn’t guarantee him significant playing time, but he took a roll of the dice.
It paid dividends.
In his three seasons at SLC — where he played from 2014-17 — Bains averaged 22 points, five assists and two steals per game to cap off his collegiate career. In consecutive years, he won the Ontario Colleges Athletic Association’s (OCAA) Rookie of the Year, OCAA Player of the Year, and was named an OCAA First Team All-Star twice and national All-Canadian once.
“[St. Lawrence] was where I was given the opportunity to showcase my talent and things went well,” Bains said of his time with the program.
With a diploma from SLC in hand, Bains said moving crosstown to Queen’s as a student-athlete transfer was a no-brainer. He was comfortable with the program and had previously established a rapport with the team and coaching staff in years past.
“I would come [to Queen’s] for the summer to train and practice with the [varsity] team,” Bains said. After his second year at St. Lawrence, he would practice with the Gaels three times a week during the offseason. “At SLC, we’d get summers off, so we’d do our own training … but Queen’s is structured.”
During the recruiting process to fulfill his last two years of eligibly, Bains said being coveted by Queen’s was the driving factor behind his decision. Head coach Stephan Barrie and assistant coach Jermaine Small “were really on me, messaging me all the time,” Bains remembered. “And that’s kind of what people want when they’re getting recruited.”
For Barrie, Bains’ greatest attribute is his drive. Reflecting on the recruiting process, the coach said the program looked beyond his skill set as a basketball player.
“He is driven to be successful and to accomplish goals he has in basketball — and he just wears those [goals] on his chest when he plays every day,” he said.“[We’re] really fortunate to get a chance to work with a kid like that. Not because he’s a great player, but because … I’m so impressed by his desire.”
When asked about his determination, Bains said “I play my best when I have a chip on my shoulder.” Team concerns have always taken a precedence over individual goals and prioritizing that has been his primary focus in his first season with the Gaels.
“The first thing is winning a championship. I want to make nationals, I want to win,” Bains said of what he hopes to achieve before graduating from Queen’s. “It’s not even an individual thing; it’s a program thing, a team thing. We want to win — that’s all it is.”
The odds never played in Bains’ favour — but his resolve never waned.
“[G]oing through all the tough times, getting through being cut … perseverance is a big reason for my being a good basketball player,” he said.
Hunched over his office chair in the ARC, Barrie tried to piece together his point guard’s career path.
“What are the odds of this kid right now, who’s just been cut by Humber, being an All-Canadian and then eventually a U Sports player that plays at an all-star level … I mean, what are the chances?”
“Everyone would’ve said there’s zero chance.”
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