HEATHER MAYFIELD WAS five months pregnant when she went to Mercy Health Saint Mary’s hospital in Grand Rapids, Michigan, with her husband, Brian, accompanying her for an ultrasound appointment on a chilly January day in 2000.
Upon the revelation that their first child would be a boy, the couple quickly began considering names. As an homage to Brian’s grandfather, the middle name Walker was locked in. But the first name was not so settled.
“I was torn between Marcus and Spencer,” Heather told ESPN.
Eventually the discussion turned to Michigan basketball, and the famed Fab Five.
“It kind of made sense because the Fab Five was so big when we were in college, and we watched every game when we were at school,” Heather said. “Chris [Webber] was too common of a name, and then Ray [Jackson] was kind of an old man name, then you got Jimmy [King], so we didn’t go with Jimmy. So I was like Jalen [Rose] … Jalen wasn’t too obscure, but it wasn’t too common.”
“I liked Juwan [Howard] too,” Brian Mayfield added.
But Jalen it was, so on May 23, 2000, Jalen Walker Mayfield was born.
Twenty-one years later, after playing football at Michigan, Jalen Mayfield is a top prospect who will hear his name called in the first two rounds of the NFL draft. So will Alabama WR Jaylen Waddle, who is projected to go No. 12 overall to the Philadelphia Eagles in Mel Kiper Jr.’s and Todd McShay’s three-round mock draft. Miami DE Jaelan Phillips is projected 21st to the Indianapolis Colts. Mayfield is slotted at No. 32 with the reigning Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Forty-eight years ago, Jeanne Rose named her son Jalen — and with a few dozen variants in pro sports and more on their way — the “Jalen Generation” is in full effect.
“I always say that the name Jalen’s a superpower,” Jalen Rose said. “Because, if you’re seeing this level of Jalens when you’re watching college basketball and football, pro basketball and football, that’s a small percentage of the society that actually carry the name.”
Check out the best highlights from Michigan OT Jalen Mayfield’s college career.
IT’S BITTERSWEET FOR Rose. His mother died of lung cancer in February, two months before her 80th birthday on April 28, and the months since have been emotional. But it has also helped Rose come to an important realization.
“If she would’ve named me James or Jason, that wouldn’t have hit the same. So she’s the creator, and I’m the vessel that gets to carry it out,” Rose said. “Names and words are extremely powerful. If people don’t rock with you or they don’t like you, you know the last thing they’re gonna do is name their kid after you. That ain’t got nothing to do with your rings. That ain’t got nothing to do with where you went to college. Like, if I’m gonna name my son or daughter after you, I rock with you.”
Rose was tasked with going through his mother’s personal belongings after her death. Searching through one of her drawers, he discovered a handwritten list on a white sheet of paper. Jeanne Rose didn’t just follow the career of her son Jalen; she followed every Jalen.
“I knew it was something that she realized had become bigger than her — and clearly way larger than me,” Rose said. “It’s something now that really is gonna be what defines her legacy and mine. Something that has zero to do with the score of any game that I ever played.”
Among the dozens of names on Jeanne Rose’s list were Jalen Richard (Las Vegas Raiders), Jalen Hurts (Philadelphia Eagles), Jalen Mayfield (Michigan Wolverines), Jalen Brunson (Dallas Mavericks) and Jalen Ramsey (L.A. Rams). She also kept track of the players who spelled their name differently, like Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, there are currently 32 players with some variation of the name Jalen on rosters across the NBA, NFL and other major North American professional sports. Nearly 80 Jalens played men’s college basketball this past season.
While there was at least one Jalen born in the United States before Jan. 30, 1973, when Jeanne gave her son the name that was a combination of his father’s (James) and his uncle’s (Leonard), there’s no doubt the popularity of the name can be tied directly to Rose’s fame.
“When a name jumps fast, that means that there’s something going on, that something is influencing it,” said Jennifer Moss, founder and CEO of BabyNames.com. “Why wasn’t it anywhere on the charts before 1992? Well, of course, because it must have been influenced by Jalen Rose.”
Rose debuted as part of Michigan’s Fab Five in 1991. The very next year, Jalen cracked the top 1,000 most popular names, according to the U.S. Social Security Office of the Actuary for U.S. Births. The name debuted at No. 378. The next year, when Rose was helping the Wolverines reach a second consecutive national title game, it jumped to 216.
There are now nearly a dozen variant spellings of the name.
“[At] Starbucks, whenever I place an order and tell them my name, I’ve gotten like 50 different spellings,” Suggs said. “They’ll put a ‘Y.’ They’ll put ‘L-I-N.’ There’s so many different variations that I’ve seen over the years from that.
For Mayfield, there’s only one spelling that matters.
“If you have a ‘Y’ in your name, you’re spelling it totally the wrong way,” he said. “I think the only way you could go is ‘J-A-L-E-N.’ I’ve seen it spelled so many ways, but any way else I think is wrong.”
The original Jalen spelling has been a mainstay on the top 1,000 list since debuting, peaking at No. 106 in 2000, when Rose helped the Indiana Pacers reach the NBA Finals.
That same year, an alternate spelling appeared among the top 1,000 most popular names.
“J-A-Y-L-I-N, which is used for girls, popped onto the U.S. charts in the year 2000 and stayed there until 2015,” Moss said. “What parents will do is because they want their own unique spelling, or maybe they want to feminize the name a little bit. They might put extra letters in there, or just change the spelling.”
That was the case for Jaylyn Agnew, who became the WNBA’s first Jalen when she played 12 games for the Atlanta Dream last season.
“Jalen has become a unisex name, an international name,” Rose said. “I started to take pride in the fact that [I’m] ‘the first Jalen.’ There’s a sense of responsibility that came with it.”
Jalen Suggs drains the long 3-pointer as time expires to send Gonzaga to the title game.
LARRY SUGGS AND his girlfriend, Molly Manley, were both big fans of the Fab Five. The name Jalen was an easy choice for their son — though they weren’t prepared for how many other parents would turn to the hardwood for inspiration.
“I think everybody had the same idea back when Jalen Rose was rocking in the playoffs and stuff for the Pacers,” said Larry, who was also his son’s first basketball and football coach.
“When we named him, obviously we knew he was going to play basketball because we’re a basketball family, and when we were in there we were like ‘He’s going to be Mr. Basketball,'” Larry added.
Jalen Suggs was around 7 years old when he began to take sports more seriously, and though Jalen Rose had already retired from the NBA, Suggs took pride in the name.
“[My parents] told me that I was named after him; of course I went to go look at some of the highlights and old stuff on him, and it was super cool,” Jalen Suggs said. “That’s something that I always would tell people when they ask, ‘What’s your name?’ I would say, ‘My name is Jalen like Jalen Rose.’ So it was something as a kid that was special. I was always excited to talk about it.”
“I just liked Jalen Rose,” Manley recalled, laughing.
In 2020, Jalen Suggs became the first athlete in Minnesota history to win Mr. Basketball and Mr. Football honors in the same season. A year later he led the Gonzaga Bulldogs to an undefeated regular season before his team lost to Baylor in the national championship game. His buzzer-beating overtime 3-pointer in Gonzaga’s Final Four win over UCLA almost immediately became one of the most iconic shots in NCAA history, and he’s now expected to be a top-five pick in July’s NBA draft.
Throughout his journey, he’s kept an eye on his peers who carry the same name, and over the years, they’ve found ways to differentiate themselves.
“I’ve kind of gotten a couple nicknames out of it, just because it’s always one or two Jalens in the building,” he said. “It’s something we just kind of bond over.”
Dallas Mavericks guard Jalen Brunson, born Aug. 31, 1996, is among the first generation of players who were named after Rose to reach the pro ranks. His father, Rick, played nine seasons in the NBA, including two as Rose’s teammate with the Chicago Bulls. Jalen Brunson still remembers being introduced to the player who inspired his name as a kid visiting the former Bulls training facility, the Berto Center.
“I remember exactly where we were because my dad coached there years later when I was in high school,” Jalen Brunson said. “I remember that building. Like I knew that building.”
Jalen Brunson didn’t recall meeting many other people who shared his name until reaching high school, but started hearing it more in college. No matter how many other Jalens hit the scene, though, Rick Brunson wouldn’t let his son forget about his eponymous teammate, who has gone on to inspire a younger generation not only through his name and basketball career, but also through philanthropic work as well.
“It’s pretty cool to see someone like that with the impact on and off the court and the things he’s doing in his community back home,” Brunson said. “It’s pretty special so I’ve definitely got a sense of pride.”
For Rose, that means everything — especially with his mother now gone.
“I definitely root for all Jalens. There will not be any Jalen slander in any way, shape or form in my presence,” Rose said. “I knew that I started to be an official old man on Twitter one time when I realized that somebody that was trolling me didn’t necessarily realize that they were named after me.”
BAL’s Ater Majok learned his work ethic from Lakers legend Kobe Bryant
US Monastir’s Ater Majok has paid tribute to former Los Angeles Lakers teammate Kobe Bryant ahead of the Basketball Africa League, telling ESPN that Bryant inspired his career after meeting Majok in high school for the first time.
According to Majok, who would go on to be drafted by the Lakers in 2011, the pair met when Majok attended a youth camp which Kobe hosted in Los Angeles, and the Sudanese-Australian promised the superstar that they would one day share a court.
Majok, who is currently preparing for the inaugural BAL that starts on May 16, told ESPN: “I remember when I first got drafted, on draft night, I was in Washington DC.
“Mitch Kupchak, the general manager at the time, called me. He said, ‘Congratulations, you’re a Laker. You worked hard for it.’ The first thing I remember saying was, ‘Tell Kobe that I kept my word.’
“I sent [Kupchak] a screenshot of the pictures that we had taken that day, [because] Mitch didn’t even believe that I had that conversation with Kobe.”
He further explained how the duo met: “I was having a conversation in one of the camps that Kobe was hosting and I told him, ‘One day, I’m going to be your teammate.’
“I took a picture with [Bryant] and said, ‘Yo, you’ve got a bullseye on your back. I’m coming for you.’ As a kid, being a competitor, that’s something that you’re automatically going to do.
“That’s where my journey started — when I met him that day. My words to him were, ‘I’m going to be on the same court as you one day. If I’m playing against you, I’m coming at your neck, but if I’m your teammate, I’m going to make you proud.’
“He said: ‘Yeah, a lot of people said that, but it’s not an easy road, but if you can get there, get my phone.'”
If going on to be selected by the Lakers made Majok feel 10 feet tall, then watching Bryant, who was killed in a helicopter crash in 2020, brought him straight back down to earth.
He said: “When I flew to LA the next day [after the call with Kupchak], I remember having the first practice. It was at 11AM. I thought I had good work ethics. Being professional and being African, I work hard and nothing is ever given.
“I showed up at 9AM and Kobe was in there already working out, bleeding sweat. Being around Kobe as a rookie, you don’t even walk on the court with him at the same time. When he’s working, you can’t disturb him, so I just stood on the sideline and watched.
“I remember the equipment manager said, ‘He’s been here since 7AM.’ I said, ‘What? We don’t have practice until 11!’ He said, ‘Yeah, and he’s going to keep working, go eat, and come back.’
“He did this every single day. Some days, he’d be there at 5AM. That was the extreme of work ethic and being professional.
“When I started seeing him, I thought, ‘Let me start imitating him — not so much imitating his game, but imitating how he carries himself and how hard he works.’
“You’ve got to tell yourself: ‘I’m not going to be Kobe — I want to be myself — but at the same time, I want to be blessed with that work ethic.’
“I started going in a couple of hours before practice. If I knew that he was shooting in the morning, I’d go to the gym at night.”
Majok carried this routine with him for years, even as he hopped between countries after falling short of making a name for himself in the NBA. He was cutting his teeth in New Zealand with the Breakers when he learned of Bryant’s passing.
He recalled: “I was actually asleep because of the time zone. I remember my mom calling me in tears and I knew something was wrong. I hadn’t turned on the TV. I hadn’t even looked at my phone — she called me early in the morning.
“I remember my mom saying: ‘Just turn on ESPN.’ I kept seeing his name. I couldn’t believe it — it took me probably three days to get it in my head that this was reality. For me, it’s still hard.
“Literally, this is the person that my character is based on — this is who I learned a lot of things from — being professional and even being drafted.
“I owe him for that, because when I met him and I was talking sh*t to him, talking smack, being a young high school kid… him challenging me led me to work hard to be in a place to get drafted.
“Then, just being in the same practice facility, the same block room, the same arena, the same uniform — and just learning things — he meant a lot to me.
“I don’t talk about it too much to a lot of people, because this is something that is personal to me.
“It really hurt me, but at the same time, he is a legend. Despite his physical spirit passing on, I know his spirit is still here and I don’t think his memory will ever go anywhere.”
In the spirit of Bryant, Majok said he would settle for nothing less than the championship title at the BAL in Kigali. Tunisian side Monastir are scheduled to begin their campaign on May 17 against Madagascar’s Gendarmerie Nationale Basketball Club (GNBC.
The entire 26-game tournament will air in Africa on ESPN (Channel 218 on DStv), as well as on Azam channel 120, Zuku channel 320, and StarTimes channel 256.
In the U.S, all games will be available on ESPN+ while the opening game and Finals will also air on ESPNews. ESPN will air the opening game and Finals in select countries in Asia-Pacific, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America, and all BAL games will air on ESPN’s digital platforms in those same regions. BAL games and programming will also be available in Canada on TSN and in China on Tencent Video.
AS Sale coach plays down their Basketball Africa League chances
With the Basketball Africa League set to tip off on Sunday for its inaugural season, 2017 FIBA Africa Champions Cup winners AS Sale have been tipped as one of the favourites, but their coach is aiming lower.
Said El Bouzidi is uncertain that his Morocco-based team can win the NBA-affiliated event, and has set a more realistic goal of reaching the quarterfinals as success for his side, who not only won the African title in 2017, but made it all the way to the Final the next year.
“For me, with the problems that are being experienced in Moroccan basketball [the league was suspended for two years] and the departure of some key elements of the team I think we can make maybe the quarter-finals,” he told ESPN.
El Bouzidi’s pessimism is a marked departure from year ago, when the tournament was originally scheduled to take place before the coronavirus pandemic-induced suspension.
At the time, he was just as bullish as pundits about their chances of emerging champions, despite the departure of at least two key players.
One of those players was shooting guard Wayne Arnold, who played a pivotal role in their successful run at the national title. He left to join Egyptian side Zamalek, but the losses, at the time, did little to dampen their confidence.
“We lost some players. But we can’t hold on to that. Instead, we need to focus on our goals. We are out to win the trophy,” El Bouzidi said then.
A year later, that tune has changed. With just days to the start of their campaign, and the opening game against Cameroon’s FAP, El Bouzidi is playing down his team’s chances.
The coach also pointed to the long pause in competitive play: “The effect of the interruption has been negative, especially for AS Sale which is a team that plays more than 40 international matches but now finds itself without training, without competition.
“Yes, it is normal for people to see us as favourites, but what people don’t know is that the AS Sale team has aged and changed.”
Instead, Bouzidi is pointing in other directions for potential winners of the competition: “The best claim for the title in my opinion goes to US Monastir. Also, Zamalek, and then the Angolan club Petro from Luanda and the Nigerian club Rivers Hoopers.”
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El Bouzidi is not alone. Mohammed Sekkak, a now retired AS Sale player who remains part of the fabric off the club, is equally downbeat about their chances.
“It is the first time in a long time that I have doubts,” he told ESPN. “I trusted my team and it’s personnel. It is just that every other time before we were prepared and we were playing in a league that was functional.
“It is not as much the team as it is the other factors which may affect us. We played at the highest level and we reached the final twice in the last two editions and won once. So our odds are on our side and usually, we can compete with any team.”
Still, there is reason to trust in AS Sale’s ability to finish on top of the pile by the end of the two-week competition.
Formed in 1928, the seven-time Moroccan champions are one of the oldest basketball clubs on the continent, but for the majority of their existence, were content to make up the numbers in the league.
That was to change at the turn of the century when they became real challengers, and then champions.
Sekkak, who played in those earlier teams, says the turnaround was driven from within: “We were known for producing good players through the youth categories.
“A new generation of good and modern ex-players with young age and career people took over.
“Players who played with me and some younger ones decided the club should not just compete and stay in the middle of the pack, they wanted to lead the pack. So they hired the best players and they found great sponsors who bought into that philosophy.”
This injection of funds and expertise injected fresh impetus into the team and thus began their new found place as not just a national, but continental powerhouse.
To start with, AS Sale finished runners up four times; in 2004, 2007, 2008 and 2009. They were finally crowned champions in 2010, a full 82 years after the club’s formation.
With the dam broken, the Corsairs went on to dominate the league, winning another six titles, including consecutive triumphs from 2015.
Having conquered the country, they then went on to do the same on the continent, winning the FIBA Africa Champions Cup in 2017 under El Bouzidi and finishing runners up in 2018.
It is perhaps an indication of the club’s confidence in a roster that reached back to back African Finals, that they decided to use only three of their allowed four foreign player quota.
Top of that list is American Terrell Stoglin, a 29-year-old guard who played college ball at the University of Maryland, and has experience from playing in Greece, France, Ukraine, Poland, Italy, Beirut, Turkey, China, Qatar, Bahrain, Venezuela, Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
Stoglin is a returnee, who was with the club initially but left during the COVID break. He is joined by Johndre Jefferson and Ra’Shad Deane James.
“We brought only three imports,” Bouzidi said. “Because the needs of the team now are not the same of pre-Covid-19. Hopefully they will pull the team forward.”
Despite the issues, El Bouzidi is happy about playing in the BAL and hopes to see the tournament grow bug enough to rival others: “I’m happy to play the first edition of the BAL and any coach will have the same attitude.
“BAL not only opens the door for African basketball but it is also its future.
“The organization is of high quality and professional. I hope it will develop into a similar league like the Euro-League and even the NBA.”
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