Archbishop Wood senior Jaylen Stinson (above) picked James Madison over several other CAA offers. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Mitchell Gladstone (@mpgladstone13)
The street corners of Philadelphia’s Mantua neighborhood, perhaps more specifically the one at 34th and Wallace Streets, are plenty familiar to Jaylen Stinson. They are where he was raised, along with his parents, other family members and their friends.
Thus, it was more than fair for at least some of those around Stinson to think he might not stray far from home. So close, in fact, that one would need only walk 15 minutes down N. 34th Street to reach the entrance to Drexel’s Daskalakis Center — a place Stinson very much considered calling his home for the next four years.
But as the Archbishop Wood senior drove into Harrisonburg, Va., through Blue Ridge Mountains and smack dab in the Shenandoah Valley, Stinson began to see a new home nearly 300 miles away.
“[James Madison] was just beautiful, and there wasn’t anything they didn’t have that you needed,” Stinson said by phone last week. “I just kind of felt it was time for me to experience something different and get out of my comfort zone. … Outside of basketball, a good student life there would be amazing.”
Still, it was the hoops that sealed the deal for Stinson, who committed to JMU earlier this month, choosing the Dukes over a pair of Colonial Athletic Association foes in Drexel and Hofstra as well as a dozen other low-to-mid-major offers. And as the Vikings’ hard-nosed guard explained, much of that credit goes to the up-tempo style of play that newly-hired head coach Mark Byington will bring to JMU from Georgia Southern, starting this season.
“What drew me to his system is that it’s similar to Wood’s system where there’s not just one ballhandler in the game,” Stinson said. “There are multiple people on the floor that can pass, shoot and dribble. The pace of game that they’ll place is just perfect for my style — it’s fast-paced, and it’s not a slow game or a million sets.”
Playing for Wood, the 6-foot-1 Stinson has both benefited and suffered from sharing backcourt duties with classmate and UConn commit Rahsool Diggins.
On the plus side, Stinson has developed as a scorer, averaging 14.3 points and nearly 40 percent from deep in more than 30 minutes as a junior last season, helping the Vikings take home the Catholic League regular-season crown. But he’s also missed out on chances to be the primary ballhandler, a role that pretty much every college coach who recruited Stinson expected him to take on at the next level.
If Stinson is ultimately going to be successful helming the Dukes — not to mention earning first-team All-CAA honors and kickstarting a potential pro career, both goals he believes JMU will help him accomplish — it begins and ends with continued growth as a true point guard.
“If he’s going to be playing at the next level, he needs to distribute the ball better,” Wood coach John Mosco said. “I came from Neumann-[Goretti] where we played four point guards one year. … He needs to be able to get in the right lane and make the right pass. You don’t have to have the ball in your hands all the time to do that.”
Since Matt Brady was fired as coach in March 2016, the Dukes have been in a rut, finishing among the bottom half of the CAA each season. Last year was the low point, finishing 9-22, ranking 311th in KenPom adjusted efficiency and closing with eight straight losses.
By contrast, Byington’s Georgia Southern team was two wins from an NCAA tournament bid in 2020 and he’d run off three consecutive campaigns of 20-plus wins. And in each of the last two seasons, Byington’s offenses have averaged possessions of fewer than 16 seconds, putting them among the 30 quickest in the nation.
Stinson believes that the combination of style and culture that Byington developed in seven years with the Eagles will quickly come together in Harrisonburg.
“Coach Byington really trusts me with his system that I’ll be coming in and playing, and I feel like that system works really well for me,” Stinson said. “Basically, that was all I needed, and then the other assistant coaches, I’ve talked with them every day and I’ve gotten comfortable and it’s really started to feel like a family.”
If you didn’t know that family mattered to Stinson, his commitment video cleared that up. Although he was originally planning to just include his parents along with shots of his neighborhood, both his uncle and cousin made cameos as well.
And they were just some of the people Stinson leaned on when making his decision.
“For me, to be a Division I player and to be able to go to college for free, because a lot of people don’t get that chance where I’m from, it’s really a big thing. Everyone was proud of me, I knew that,” Stinson said. “Really, the advice I got from people around here is to just go where you’re comfortable and...where you won’t have to wait to play.”