By Dan Guttenplan
---- — Chris Jayne dreamed of playing Division 1 college basketball for much of his life, but the 5-foot-11 guard didn’t receive a single offer after his senior season at Newburyport High in 2011.
The dream didn’t die there for Jayne. After enrolling at the College of Holy Cross in Worcester in the fall of 2011, he reached out to Crusaders basketball coach Milan Brown in hopes of securing a tryout.
Jayne learned open tryouts for the 2011-2012 season had occurred the previous spring when Jayne was still in high school. He offered to serve as a team manager that season in hopes of getting a better look at what it takes to play Division 1 college hoops.
After serving as the manager for a year, Jayne was finally granted a tryout last spring. He made the team, earning a spot as a reserve guard.
“Since I was a little kid, it’s been a dream for me to play for a Division 1 team,” Jayne said. “As far back as I can remember, it’s something I’ve wanted to do. I used to be a (Boston College) fan, and now I’ll actually get to play at Boston College. As far as the commitment, it’s all worth it.”
The commitment started last spring, when Jayne jumped into the Division 1 workload with both feet. One week after the Holy Cross season ended last spring, the former Clipper guard joined the Holy Cross offseason conditioning program, which included 6 a.m. weight-lifting sessions four mornings a week, and daily sessions of pick-up basketball with the team’s top players.
“That’s when I made the team,” Jayne said. “I started practicing and lifting with the team. It was like a job.”
It’s always been a windy road for Jayne, who was never recognized as one of the top prospects for his age while playing in the Newburyport Boys Basketball Association before high school. In fact, Jayne was cut from the eighth-grade travel team, and served as the third-string point guard for Newburyport High as a freshman. He improved each season in high school, eventually earning Cape Ann League All-Star honors as a senior. He averaged 13.8 points and 3.3 assists that season, playing a starting role for a team that went to the Division 3 North semifinals.
“With Chris, it’s not really talent driven,” said Newburyport coach Tom L’Italien. “He has an inner-competitiveness and mental toughness that’s off the charts. He refuses to let anyone say no to him. Looking at his athleticism and skill level, I’d be hard-pressed to say he’s a Division 1 player. That being said, his intangibles make him a valuable player for any team.”
Even after working his way to the top of the Newburyport program, Jayne was a relative unknown to the Holy Cross coaching staff when he enrolled to study chemistry. As a team manager, he would often play pick-up with the Holy Cross coaches.
“That’s where I showed I can play,” Jayne said. “By the time the season ended, they wanted me to walk on and go out for the team.”
Jayne has yet to make his debut seven games into the Holy Cross season. The Crusaders are 4-3, with a win over a top-50 team in Old Dominion.
“I realize what I have to do to get playing time,” Jayne said. “It’s a step-by-step goal, and the next step is to get playing time. Right now, the experience is one of the most important things.”
Part of Jayne’s experience has included defending players six or seven inches taller than him in practice. He is learning to play to his strengths, and avoid putting himself in situations that exploit his weaknesses.
“I’m getting used to what I can do at this level, and what I can’t do,” Jayne said. “There are a lot of things I did in high school that I can’t do here. I’m 5-11, and I’m covering guys who are 6-5 or 6-6. You have to know what you’re good at. The best part of my game is my jump shot, but I have to improve my ball-handling. I think my role will be as a quick catch-and-shoot shooter.”
Holy Cross will visit Jayne’s childhood dream school, Boston College, Dec. 29. In all likelihood, his experience this season will include warming up on the Conte Forum floor before spending much of the night watching from the bench. Playing big minutes is a goal Jayne has set for future seasons. If his path to Division 1 college basketball is any indication, he will not stop until his goal is achieved.
“I don’t put anything past him,” L’Italien said. “He’s an unbelievable kid and an unbelievable leader. For the Holy Cross coach to take a chance on him after one year as manager, it shows the impression Chris made on him. He started a similar way in the Newburyport program, and he ended up having an huge impact on our program. I’m sure, by the time he’s done at Holy Cross, he’ll make a big impact on that program too.”