CHARLESTON — Jaylen Motley didn’t play in the Class AAAA state championship game on Saturday.
But he was still a winner.
That’s because the Huntington High School starting guard didn’t give up when adversity stared him squarely in the face.
Motley could have.
It would have been the simplest path to take. The 5-foot-11 senior could have quit, could have packed it in, could have taken the easy way out. It would have been simple.
But he didn’t.
Instead, when Motley was declared academically ineligible for the second semester of the 2022 school year, he persevered. He looked at himself in the mirror and didn’t like what he saw.
So, Motley did something about it. He held himself accountable. That may sound easy, but it isn’t.
Just ask Motley.
“It was a tough lesson to learn because I really love basketball,” he said. “And me not making it and just watching my friends play and not making it to the state tournament last year just motivated me this year to get it going.”
Easier said than done.
“Oh, it was very hard,” Motley said after helping the Highlanders defeat South Charleston 67-44 in the opening round of the state tournament. “Just watching all my teammates play and knowing that I needed to be there, but, basically, I let my teammates down because I couldn’t get my grades right in the classroom.”
That felt like an albatross around Motley’s neck. So, he stayed to himself at first.
“I didn’t go to the first couple of games,” he said. “And then, after a while, I still went to support my teammates. Even though I wasn’t on the team, I still wanted to support them. I really didn’t want to sit on the bench. I just enjoyed myself in the student section. I cheered them on from there.”
During the interim, Motley learned the hard way.
“Oh, yeah, it was a very tough lesson,” he said. “Just me not making the grades and then watching my friends play and me not being out there while knowing I should be out there.
“And we probably could have made it to the states last year, if I had stayed on the team because we were doing good with me on the team. I just felt like I hurt myself and my team last year.”
That’s why Motley made the right move — he held himself accountable.
“I just wasn’t focused,” he said. “I was just sitting in class not doing my work. And then this year I made sure not to let that happen to me again on my senior year.
“I just stayed focused. I had never had the opportunity to make it to the states (high school state tournament) and I just wanted to focus on my grades and focus on my team and make it here.”
That’s why it felt like such a reprieve when Motley did get to start two games for Huntington in the 2023 state tournament last week.
“It felt good,” Motley said. “It made me feel good that we made it here because this was our goal all along. Getting it taken away from me, it just motivated me this year to do better with my teammates and be better as a whole — individually myself — and take us to the next level to the state tournament.”
Motley learned a lesson in life that is impossible to teach. It only can be learned the hard way.
So, he did.
It will make Jaylen Motley a better man.