Attending high school three miles away from Charles Koch Arena, Samajae Haynes Jones had only attended one Wichita State men’s basketball game.
He didn’t recall who the Shockers were playing that night, but the point guard remembered 10,506 fans wearing black and yellow screaming at the top of their lungs as their hometown team took the floor.
As Haynes-Jones walked to his car a few hours later, one thought triggered in his mind. When it was time to play college basketball, he wanted to play in front of that crowd and in the city where he spent his entire life.
“Just the thought of playing in that environment was something that really urged me to come here and being in a program like this,” Haynes-Jones said. “Playing in an environment like (Koch Arena), anybody wants the opportunity to play in that. That’s a huge opportunity. That’s a blessing of its own and I got my blessing and I took it.”
‘He uses that as motivation’
Haynes-Jones’ introduction to basketball came from his mother, Sharon, where the two would spend hours in their driveway shooting hoops. Sharon played college basketball at Newman University, teaching her son everything she knew about the game.
As Haynes-Jones got older, he watched his cousin, Randall Rogers, play at Wichita East and aspired to be like him. Possessing that confidence from a very young age, he was approached by the late East assistant coach, Amos Alford, after watching him play on a playground. Haynes-Jones’ introduction was clear to Alford: “My name is Samajae Jones and I’m going to be starting for East High next year.”
He started for East’s junior varsity squad and upperclassmen argued about which player had to guard the standout freshman in practice. That made an impression on East coach Joe Jackson, who quickly moved him in the starting rotation.
When his junior year approached, Haynes-Jones learned he was academically ineligible to play Division I basketball out of high school. One year later, his mom had passed away from cancer.
Haynes-Jones overcame that adversity and improved his academic performance while flourishing on the basketball court.
“I know he’s used that and a lot of that determination and will from his mom,” Jackson said. “I really think she’s with him all the time and there’s no doubt in my mind that he uses that as motivation.”
Jackson happily took him into his home at his mother’s request. With the determination to play junior college first, Haynes-Jones improved his grades and guided East to the 6A state championship in his senior year.
During that time, a plethora of junior college coaches came to practice to watch Haynes-Jones. Jackson said that he didn’t need to provide motivation to his point guard, seeing in his eyes that he possessed that determination.
“As far as the encouragement goes, he was pretty easy to encourage because the kid just loves the game so much,” Jackson said. “As long as he was able to go to a school where he could play some college basketball, he was going to go in and get his grades and do what he needed to do academically to be able to play. He just wanted to play so bad.”
‘This was the offer that he wanted’
Haynes-Jones walked into Charles Koch Arena after his freshman season at Hutchinson Community College on a mission: to get noticed. He signed up for Wichita State’s High-Intensity camp, a showcase for high school players and junior college freshman and sophomores.
With a number of Division I coaches in attendance, Haynes-Jones proved how he could be a special player. He caught the attention of numerous college coaches and especially drew interest from his local school. After a three-hour session, Shocker coaches and current players were convinced of how Haynes-Jones could help the program.
— Wichita State MBB (@GoShockersMBB) November 25, 2018
“When I first seen him was at the Elite Camp we do over the summer…I was like, ‘this guy is tough,’” senior forward Markis McDuffie said. “All the talk was about Samajae. He was a hometown kid, so everybody was like ‘yeah, check this guy out.’ He already caught my eye with his quickness and his city-like game and his skills and his handles. I knew he was going to come in here, come to Wichita State.”
Having offers pouring in from schools like Louisville, Houston, and Cincinnati, Wichita State was the most intriguing to him. While head coach Gregg Marshall talked about the success of past point guards in current Toronto Raptors player Fred VanVleet and Final Four point guard Malcolm Armstead during his unofficial visit, what stood out to Haynes-Jones the most was the fact his sister, Shaunita, could watch him play.
Their relationship was strong and Haynes-Jones credits her for being one of his biggest supporters in his family. Being at a school where he could play basketball at a high-level and stay as close to his sister as possible weighed heavily on his decision.
“Growing up, she’s been like my second mom,” Haynes-Jones said. “She’s 16 years older than me, so I look up to her a lot and she’s always been there for me. When I was making this recruiting process, she was a big influence on me coming here too because this is my hometown. I got family here, but I’m not closer to anybody other than my sister. We’re a bond.”
When Haynes-Jones and Shaunita were in Marshall’s office on the Sunday of their unofficial visit, they heard news that they were hoping for from day one. Marshall offered him a scholarship for the 2017-18 season, accepting the offer on the spot.
Excitement filled the room, with Shaunita realizing that she had the opportunity to watch her younger brother play college basketball.
“It really was a quick recruiting process,” Marshall said. “When he brought his sister in that Sunday, at that point he said ‘I’ll commit.’ It was pretty simple. It wasn’t drawn out. This was the offer that he wanted, to be able to stay home, and go to school and be around his sister and his immediate family.”
— Wichita State MBB (@GoShockersMBB) October 17, 2018
‘I don’t take it for granted’
After playing last season behind the 26th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft, Landry Shamet, Haynes-Jones is taking on senior leadership roles with McDuffie. In practice, the six-foot guard is in charge of the younger players at his position.
While Haynes-Jones does not lead with his voice in practice, he leads by his play on the court. Whenever something needs to be addressed, however, he’s not afraid to say what needs to be said to the younger guys.
“He’s not a very local leader. But as a guy that’s been around, and we don’t have many of those on the roster, he’s someone that can explain that ‘this is how we do things here and this is how we’ve been successful to the other guys’,” Marshall said. “They like him and they will listen to him in those regards.”
— Wichita State MBB (@GoShockersMBB) November 7, 2018
On the court, Haynes-Jones recently proved how valuable he is to the team. The senior obtained his first career double-double with 21 points and 10 rebounds in a Dec. 1 win over Baylor, where Marshall called it “his best game as a Shocker”.
The clock may be winding down on Haynes-Jones’ college career, but he’s not thinking about what he’s going to do after his time is done as a Shocker. With the opportunity to play in his hometown, for his home school, and play in front of his family, he’s savoring every moment from his senior season.
“I really care about this program,” Haynes-Jones said. “I gave it my all and I’m taking every game at a time and just enjoying it. It’s my last year, every moment that I have, I don’t take it for granted.”
Watch Samajae Haynes-Jones and the Wichita State Shockers take on Jacksonville State – Wednesday, December 12th at 7:00pm CST on YurView Kansas (Cox Ch. 2022) and live stream.