For Jaylen Jasper, decision was a slam dunk

bburden@capgaznews.com

It's nearly 7 p.m. in Palo Alto, California, and Jaylen Jasper has just gotten out of an open gym session, the incoming Stanford freshman already getting accustomed to his new stomping grounds.

Part of a celebrated four-man recruiting class for men's volleyball coach John Kosty, Jasper is already taking two courses, working out three days a week, and getting in gym sessions and beach matches in East Bay.

Not bad for someone who had barely touched a volleyball just four years ago.

"I am so engaged when it comes to volleyball," Jasper said. "I genuinely enjoy myself and time flies every time I am in the gym."

Jasper is the son of Navy football offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Ivin Jasper, and his wife, Donna. Ivin starred in football and basketball as a prep athlete in Los Angeles, before playing football at the University of Hawaii in the early-to-mid 90s. Jaylen is the middle of three children, and basketball was always in the picture.

"I pushed basketball on Jaylen," Ivin Jasper said. "He was gonna be a tall kid, he is athletic and it was natural for him. I had visions of him being a basketball player, and I always wanted him to go out and shoot, but it was volleyball that he would go out and bang around, either by himself or with his sister."

Jaylen's older sister, Dallas, was a standout volleyball player at Broadneck and now a rising redshirt junior at Saint Leo University in Florida. He would ride along with her to practice with her club team, Velocity, and it just clicked.

"Their coach asked me if I wanted to play one practice, and I just loved it from the start," Jaylen Jasper said.

Jaylen Jasper spent his first two high school years at Archbishop Spalding. He did not play any fall sport his freshman year due to a fractured back, then continued with basketball, while joining Mike Schwob's Annapolis Volleyball Club that winter. Schwob's sons were also standout athletes at Broadneck and on the volleyball court. His older son, Will, plays volleyball at Grand Canyon University in Arizona, while another son, Robert, is a preferred walk-on at the University of Maryland.

Mike Schwob has coached volleyball a long time, and was assisting the men's team at George Mason when he decided to create AVC so his son would not have to travel as far to practice. Jaylen Jasper joined his team that first winter.

"I knew the family from Dallas playing," Mike Schwob said. "We want club volleyball to be a complementary sport, without you leaving other sports you are playing, and we want kids to catch the bug. Jaylen is a very gifted athlete, he works hard, and he did not come into the sport with any bad habits."

In Jaylen's own words, he was "god-awful" early on, but there is no denying his physical attributes. At 6-foot-8, with a huge wingspan and the ability to touch 12 feet, Jaylen Jasper has an ideal volleyball frame.

"When I first started, it was 'he is so tall. He can jump so high. He can crush the ball down the line.' I wanted to do so much more," Jaylen Jasper said. "It has happened over the course of three years, but I have acquired a ton of other skills."

Both Jaylen and Ivin discussed how important it was to get the intricacies of passing on a volleyball court down.

"Passing in volleyball is tough," Jaylen Jasper said. "You can be a great hitter, but when the ball is coming at you at 75 miles an hour, you have to angle your arms around the ball properly, and that is hard."

In addition to all the work with Mike Schwob, Jaylen and Ivin spent countless hours at McDonogh Hall on the Naval Academy campus. A machine, similar to a football JUGS machine, but with wheels on top of each other, was used. The top wheel spins faster than the bottom wheel, so when the ball comes out, there is top spin on the ball, and it drops when it comes over the net.

"Dad would stand on the other side of the net and he would just wreck me with balls," Jaylen Jasper said. "I would have just played one, and dad was sending another one right over. If I did not have that, I would not have improved."

The process went rapidly. Donna Jasper remembers all the travel.

"His first tournament was in Rochester, New York," Donna Jasper said. "There were a few local things in Virginia, but he flew to many of his tournaments. Ohio, Texas, places like that. He has a great heart and he has always wanted to do something on his own."

Jaylen continued to grow, watching reruns of old Olympic matches. He tried out for High Performance, which is tied into USA Volleyball, and was immediately assigned to the A1 team, which is the top team for his age group.

"That gave me 1-on-1 coaching opportunities, which really helped my game," Jaylen Jasper said. "Will and Robert (Schwob) were on those teams, and it was the summer after sophomore year."

It was also the first time Jaylen decided volleyball over basketball, missing time on the basketball court because of camps and competitions on the volleyball court. That would continue throughout the rest of his high school career. He played basketball at Broadneck his junior and senior seasons, and observers would see extended hints of dominance on the floor, especially at the defensive end, where Jaylen was a blocking machine. But, his future lay down a different path.

"I played basketball since I was eight, and I just fell out of love with it," Jaylen Jasper said. "It felt like a chore."

It was tough for Ivin at first.

"I know I pushed him hard on basketball, because that is what I loved and that is what I always wanted him to do," Ivin Jasper said. "For both Dallas and Jaylen. But they just loved volleyball. I never put two and two together."

Ivin Jasper quickly moved past that, supporting and pushing Jaylen in his journey, and Jaylen, for his part, quickly advanced in the USA youth ranks, qualifying for the USA Youth National Team ahead of the 2016 NORCECA (North, Central America and Caribbean Volleyball Confederation) Championships.

The tryouts for that team consisted of 24 of the top USA youth players competing for three days at Cal State Fullerton, with only half that number forming the final roster. Jaylen made the team, but many friends did not, and Jaylen did something that has stayed with other parents, along with Ivin and Donna.

"I sent lengthy texts to all the guys that did not make it, just to let them know that we are all still part of the team, and they are amazing players," Jaylen Jasper said. "We were at USA camps for 10 days and I got to know a lot of them well, and I felt so bad for them. The shuttle came to take them the next morning at 4 a.m., and I woke up and met them there. If they had to get up at 4, why not us?"

Ivin was impressed.

"As his parents, he does not necessarily let us see that side of him," Ivin Jasper said. "Like all teenagers, he can be a knucklehead at times, but everyone tells us he is that kind of kid all the time. He truly is first class."

The team went to Cuba, which was a big deal for Jaylen, as his only previous trip outside the United States was a two-hour foray to the Canadian side of Niagara Falls. USA lost to the host nation in the gold medal game, but Jaylen led the team in blocks and kills. The experience was an amazing one for Jaylen.

"We got to wear USA gear all the time, and the locals brought us gifts and were just so nice," Jaylen Jasper said. "Until the finals, of course. But, we got to hear the national anthem and go to a place most Americans don't get to. It was a special feeling."

As all this was going on, Jaylen also had his recruiting visits to take. He went to Princeton and Penn State, and Pepperdine, and his previous favorite, USC. But then, Stanford came into the mix.

The Cardinal have won two men's volleyball national championships, in 1997 and under Kosty in 2010, when they swept Penn State. They were runners up to Loyola of Chicago in 2014. And…it's Stanford.

"Part of me was hoping that he would go to Princeton or Penn State, but he told me 'Ma, when I leave Maryland, I never want to see snow again.' So, I knew it was probably going to be California, and I knew it was Stanford the moment we stepped on campus," Donna Jasper said.

So did Jaylen.

"I knew when we drove on campus the first day," Jaylen Jasper said. "Everything felt right. It is a beautiful campus, and a degree from Stanford will set me up for life."

Jaylen is a Chemical Engineering major, and he arrived on campus on June 23 to get a head start on classes.

"What I love about him going to Stanford is what I love about working at the Naval Academy," Ivin Jasper said. "There are no courses you can take to just get by. They expect great things out of you."

Jaylen Jasper is also getting a head start on volleyball by playing as much as he can, in the gym and on the beach. "He, along with Leo Henken (St. Louis), Kyler Presho-Hartung (San Clemente, Ca.) and JP Reilly (Manhattan Beach, Ca.) comprise Stanford's highly-rated incoming class. Mike Schwob is excited to see what Jaylen can accomplish in Palo Alto.

"Jaylen has a good build on the right or left side," Schwob said. "He is a threat offensively, both in the front and back court. We tried to have him touch the ball as much as possible on our side. It will be exciting to see him playing after practicing six days a week and fully immersing himself in volleyball."

Before the season, which begins in the winter, commences, and even before the school year opens on Sept. 7, Jaylen has some more traveling and work to do. The FIVB (Federation International de Volleyball) Boys' U19 World Championship takes place Aug. 17-27 in Bahrain. Jaylen will finish his two classes a couple days early before leaving for Lake Placid, New York, on Aug. 1 for training.

"Kids dream of having these kinds of opportunities," Jaylen Jasper said.

After Bahrain, it's a quick segue to the Florida Keys with his freshman teammates before the schoolwork comes fast and furious in September. Jaylen Jasper has set big goals for himself, both in and out of the classroom. Last year at Broadneck, Bruins alum and 2016 Olympic 1,500 Meters gold medalist Matt Centrowitz returned to the school. Jaylen Jasper was unable to meet him because he could not get out of Calculus class.

The Olympics are expected to be in Ivin's hometown of Los Angeles either in 2024 or 2028, depending on an agreement to be worked out with Paris. Will Jaylen be the next Bruin to compete for a medal?

"That is the ultimate dream of mine," Jaylen Jasper said. "If that happens, I either did something correct, or got really, really lucky." 

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