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Rumph Classic: Late bloomer Jaylen Nixon continues to chase pro dreams

08/11/2022, 9:30am EDT
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

The MC at Tom Gola Arena on Thursday night made one thing clear: No. 1 in the blue jersey was going to have to earn his name.

One bucket wasn’t enough, but then came another tough finish. More and more buckets followed over the five days of the 17th annual Rumph Classic.

Over the course of the tournament, No. 1 went from ‘some guy’ to Jaylen Nixon. It was clear he belonged out on the floor with the numerous other professional players at the Rumph.

That is the 24-year-old guard’s goal this summer and beyond as he chases hoop dreams, making sure more and more people are familiar with his name.

“My dream is to play pro,” said Nixon, who helped F.O.E. finish with a Rumph championship. “I always knew I have the capability to be a pro player. I just have to put myself around that right group and that right setting and get my mind totally focused on it.”

F.O.E.'s Jay Nixon drives in the lane last Thursday during the Rumph Classic. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Nixon grew up in Virginia and currently resides in Miami, but he has some connection to Philadelphia hoops having played at the Phelps School and the Community College of Philadelphia.

Nixon’s father, John, was a standout at Deep Creek (Va.), where he played against future NBA No. 1 overall picks Allen Iverson and Joe Smith. He then played at top JUCO Hagerstown (Md.) and two years of professional ball in Dublin before Jaylen was born.

A self-proclaimed ‘late bloomer,’ Nixon couldn’t match his father’s high school prowess, not playing high school basketball until his senior year at Granby High School in Norfolk, Va. Then the Nixons moved to Philadelphia, where Jaylen played at the Phelps School in 2015-16.

“Honestly man, I just wasn’t good enough,” Nixon said. “Once I moved to Philly and got the Philly competition and Philly toughness, that brought the dog out of me. I just try to play with a good group of guys and compete at a high level.”

The Nixons relocated to Philadelphia while his younger sister Chyna’s recruitment was blowing up and Jaylen was just starting to take the sport seriously. 

Chyna won three state titles at Neumann-Goretti before playing at Ole Miss and Temple.

“Honestly, what was my motivation was seeing my littler sister get a lot of Division I offers and mail,” Nixon said. “I was like, ‘Oh s–t, if she can do it I can do it.’ I just gotta stay focused and just get to it everyday.”

While Chyna played at Neumann-Goretti, Nixon headed to the Saints gym in his free time.

Games and workouts with Quade Green, who he matched up with again at the Rumph Classic, proved to himself he had the talent to continue his basketball pursuit.

“Basically in the summertime and during his seasons and my sister’s season as well, I was always there around those guys and around good basketball,” Nixon said. “Of course, I wanted to compete like, ‘Let’s play. Let’s see your game.’ and stuff because I already knew he got a name for himself, big name in the city, everybody knows about him. He’s a helluva player, helluva talent.”

Nixon’s path to sharing a court with NBA players like Tyerese Maxey and Markieff and Marcus Morris in a Pro-Am event like the Rumph isn’t like many of the others who shined at La Salle this past weekend.

There was no standout high school career or Division I offer. He chased opportunity after opportunity to try and showcase himself in front of the right person to take a chance on him.

The next steps of Nixon’s basketball career remained quite uncertain after finishing up his preps career at Phelps School. Nixon was playing and working out with his father at the local YMCA when someone told him about open tryouts for the team at the Community College of Philadelphia. 

In one season for the Colonials in 2017-18, Nixon averaged 18.5 ppg and was the Eastern Pennsylvania Athletic Conference Player of the Year. After the season, he received a call from Lavar Ball, who was starting the Junior Basketball Association and looking for players for his Philadelphia team.

“He was like, ‘Yo I see your numbers. You’re going crazy in college, 30, 40-point games at a JUCO.’ Everybody’d seen that this kid can play really,” Nixon said. “Lavar reached out and was like, “I want you to be the face of the Philly team.’”

F.O.E.'s Jay Nixon holds the Rumph Classic championship trophy on Monday. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Nixon was one of the league’s all-stars in the summer of 2018, but the JBA didn’t play another season, forcing him to look elsewhere to chase his basketball dreams. 

He finally thought he found his chance in 2020. 

Following the COVID-19 shutdown earlier in the winter and spring, leagues began to start playing again in the summer. Nixon headed to Europe, trying to make sure he at least got to show himself in person in front of potential teams.

A strong showing in a showcase event earned him an opportunity with OBC Alfinden in Spain’s Liga EBA. He was there for a month before another COVID variant shut things down and Nixon headed back home to the U.S.

“Just going over there in Spain, it was definitely worth the trip,” Nixon said. “I met a new style of culture, new style of basketball, added some parts to my game.

“I had to figure it all out again, but I made sure to stay consistent.”

Nixon hasn’t been discouraged in the last six years, continuing to jump at opportunities to play high level basketball whenever and wherever he can.

Nixon played in Atlanta’s Entertainment Basketball League last summer and came up to Philly to play in some Pro-Am events. He is back and forth playing in Miami and Philadelphia this summer, next heading back to Miami for the Miami Pro-League playoffs.

“I’ve ran into so many players. Pro, professional, G-League, overseas guys, these great group of guys,” Nixon said. “I’m just learning to enjoy the moment because you don’t always get these opportunities to play like this. I’m just trying to take it all in and learn from a good group of veteran guys who have been here before.”

Nixon shared the court with the Morris twins and former NBA player Thomas Robinson for most of the Rumph Classic before playing with 76ers Maxey and Isaiah Joe in Monday’s championship.

With those three unavailable in F.O.E.’s second game on Saturday, Nixon poured in 20 points in an elimination game to keep his team alive and showcase his full-range of abilities. A day later with the Morris twins once again unavailable, Nixon scored 14 points and added five assists to earn Player of the Game honors and send F.O.E. to the title game.

“I couldn’t really show the full display of my game,” Nixon said. “Obviously the athleticism, that’s what they know Jay Nixon as, an athlete. But a lot of guys also know I can shoot the ball, I can create for myself, get other teammates involved. When you have a great group of guys you don’t have to do as much. You just stick to your role.”

Nixon said he’s been in contact with a few G-League teams about playing this upcoming season. Otherwise, he’ll turn his attention once again overseas looking for a chance.

There may have been some twists and turns to his path so far, but Nixon has enjoyed the process. He hopes others aren’t discouraged to follow in his footsteps and do the same.

“For all the youngins out there, if you’re ever going through a tough time with basketball and you feel like it’s hard or the journey’s getting rough, stick with it,” Nixon said. “I promise you. I’m 24 and I’ve been chasing this basketball journey since I was 18, that’s when I started taking the game seriously. Just seeing that hard work pay off, getting to the level like here and different spots, it’s really a blessing.”

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