It was a momentous occasion on Tuesday morning for high school senior Jayson Kent earlier this week.
With his parents and younger sister in matching Bradley University t-shirts at his side and a plethora of family and friends looking on, the 6-foot 6-inch shooting guard signed his National Letter of Intent to play men’s basketball for the Braves.
A signing ceremony is often a pinnacle moment in a successful high school athlete’s career, as players celebrate their commitment to play collegiate athletics in front of those who helped them to the next level.
But for Kent, and other seniors, this year’s National Signing Day was a little different. Rather than signing at Oak Forest High School, his soon-to-be alma mater, he signed at a table in his home. The many spectators viewed the ceremony through the lens of a camera connected to Zoom.
“The idea was my dad’s and my mom’s,” Kent said. “They wanted me to have the experience of signing. It was just a great idea and I went with it, and it went pretty well.”
Despite the lack of face-to-face contact, the magnitude of the day for the Kent family was palpable.
After reading a written statement of thanks to his family, teammates and coaches and signing his NLI to make things official, Kent popped on a white Bradley hat, and the verbal tributes and well wishes poured in.
His grandfather reminded him of the importance of his faith. And then told him not to take any 8 a.m. classes. His principal conveyed that Kent represented his school well in his four years there. Oak Forest athletic director Ron Towner said that Kent’s work ethic behind the scenes was an example for all student-athletes.
Aunts, uncles and cousins all got emotional while expressing how proud they were of Jayson’s accomplishments. The meeting had the feel of a tight-knit family gathering. That same feeling is what attracted Jayson to Bradley.
“It was really the family culture [Bradley] had, just the relationship with the coaching staff,” he said. “Getting to know the coaching stuff over this long break has inspired me to be a Bradley Brave.”
Kent completed a visit to Peoria and Bradley’s campus well before Illinois’ stay at home order, highlighted by watching the Feb. 19 game against Missouri State and the Feb. 29 game against Loyola at Carver Arena, which he also cited as a contributing factor to his decision.
Now in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kent has utilized technology to continue contact with his future team.
“I’ve been calling the coaching staff and checking in and texting them to make sure everything’s good with them and make sure their family is okay,” Kent said.
After a breakout senior season with the Bengals in which he averaged 17.4 points per game, Kent received Bradley’s scholarship offer mid-winter and committed via Twitter on April 2.
“Jayson is a long and talented shooter with deep range,” Bradley head coach Brian Wardle said in a statement. “I love that he has improved every year and has a mature game.”
Thanks to the modern technology of Zoom and a college basketball scholarship, the Kent family and friends had a bright future to celebrate on a morning in the midst of an otherwise uncertain time.