LeBron James, JaKarr Sampson and Jerome Lane.
The trio of St. Vincent-St. Mary High School alums have all played basketball at the highest level, competing in the NBA for a combined 23 seasons.
Florida guard Jalen Hudson, a former player at the Akron high school, is hoping to follow in their footsteps.
“He’s definitely in the top five,” said St. Vincent-St. Mary coach Dru Joyce II on where Jalen sits among the school’s all-time best players. “We’ll see how it all pans out.”
Jalen, now in his redshirt junior year of college, is having a breakout 2017-18 campaign at UF, scoring at a higher rate than any Gator over the last eight years.
However, the success he has had during his first season in Gainesville — leading Florida to a 10-7 conference record ahead of the team’s regular season finale against Kentucky on Saturday at noon — is a stark contrast from the hardships he has faced throughout his life.
Between a divorce that split his family down the middle and a coach who didn’t want him, Jalen has proven resilient at every turn, leaning on hard work, discipline and his faith.
“I’m a big follower of Christ,” Jalen said, “so I feel like it’s already written.”
Jalen and his father, Jerry, used to grab pizza and watch movies together every Friday night, a father-son ritual that strengthened their bond.
The two shared everything together, from their passion for sports to their love of Italian food.
“Anytime I went to the store, anywhere I went, he wanted to come with me,” Jerry said.
Jalen was close with the rest of his family — his mother, Teresa, and his older sisters, Bri and Chanel — as well.
He would stay up late and watch TV with Bri, four years his senior, as the two siblings laughed and joked with each other. They were fans of “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but their favorite movie was “All About the Benjamins.” Jalen, a Martin Lawrence fan, also loved “Blue Streak.”
“He would always fall asleep before me,” Bri said. “I would put him on my back and carry him upstairs to his room.”
As the years went by, Jalen grew. Eventually, he stood taller than Bri.
“He was so big that when I would put him on my back, his feet would drag on the floor,” she said. “I couldn’t carry him anymore and he was only in the fifth grade.”
However, in 2004, Jalen’s family started to unravel.
His parents filed for a divorce. Jerry moved to Akron, Ohio, with Chanel, while Teresa, Jalen and Bri stayed put at their home in Richmond, Virginia.
The siblings traveled to see each other whenever they could, with Chanel regularly coming back to Virginia during the summer.
This was the routine Jalen and his sisters followed for years until Teresa began to suffer health problems, causing another shift in the balance of their lives.
Jerry, who declined to go into specifics of his ex-wife’s medical condition but said she is “doing well, but she's not in the best health,” decided it would be best for Jalen to finish out his final two years of high school in Ohio with him.
“It’s not something that we talk to anyone but family about,” he said.
* * *
After moving away from Virginia, Jalen enrolled at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School in Akron the summer between his sophomore and junior years.
Jalen impressed Joyce II and then-assistant coach Willie McGee as soon as he arrived on campus. McGee — now the athletic director at St. Vincent-St. Mary — recalls Jalen putting his head down and working hard that offseason, attending every summer workout, open gym and training session held at the school.
“He didn’t miss,” Joyce II said. “He didn’t make any excuses.”
He did make a lot of shots, leading St. Vincent-St. Mary in scoring both years he played there. Despite having to defer to Jalen — the new guy — his teammates respected his athletic ability and team-first attitude.
“I think he adjusted well,” McGee said, “being part of the St. Vincent-St. Mary community.”
One of Jalen’s most memorable moments came during his senior year at a showcase in Dayton, Ohio.
Joyce II vividly recalls Jalen driving to the rim from the top of the key and throwing down a crowd-pleasing dunk with a 6-foot-8 defender in his face.
“It was one of those kind of dunks that you’re always gonna remember,” Joyce II said. “I’ve seen a lot of great dunks before, with LeBron being here, but that one ranks right up there.”
Jalen guided the Fighting Irish to deep postseason runs during his two years at the school, leading St. Vincent-St. Mary to the state championship game as a junior and the state semifinals as a senior.
“We stumbled and didn’t win,” Joyce II said, “but without him, we couldn’t have gotten to either of those games.”
* * *
From the moment Jalen started evaluating his options for college, he knew he wanted to compete in the ACC.
He watched Bri run track at North Carolina for four years and hoped to follow in her footsteps.
His wish eventually came true when he signed his National Letter of Intent to play for Virginia Tech and coach James Johnson.
Johnson wanted him on the roster, and athletes already on the team told Jalen that with his abilities, he would almost certainly get substantial playing time.
“(Johnson) was very aggressive in trying to recruit Jalen,” Jerry said.
But his career in Blacksburg, Virginia, was derailed before it even started.
Prior to Jalen’s arrival on campus, Johnson was fired on March 17, 2014, and replaced with former Marquette coach Buzz Williams four days later.
Suddenly, Jalen was in limbo.
Unsure of what Virginia Tech had in store for him, he looked into the transfer process. He wanted to go about two hours northeast to the University of Virginia, but strict transfer rules stopped that plan in its tracks.
Since Jalen had already signed his National Letter of Intent with the Hokies, if he wanted to leave for another ACC school, he would lose a year of eligibility and have to receive permission from Williams to leave.
“It was just too much,” Jerry said.
Jalen stayed the course and gave Williams a chance.
During his freshman season, Jalen registered three starts and averaged 6.9 points per game. He also put up 32 points and nailed the game-winning shot in the first round of the ACC Tournament to propel Virginia Tech past Wake Forest 81-80.
Jalen’s heroics off the bench earned him the ACC Digital Network’s title of ACC Star of the Day.
As a sophomore, he started 24 games and increased his scoring output to 8.4 points per game.
But despite playing well enough to put himself on the map, something was wrong at Virginia Tech. Jalen felt like he was on the outskirts of the team, playing for a coach in Williams who hadn’t recruited him.
“It was just kind of an awkward relationship,” Jalen said.
Williams’ coaching style, predicated on hard-nosed defense, simply didn’t fit Jalen’s skill set as a free-flowing scorer.
“You come into a new program, you’re going to want your guys,” Joyce II said of Williams. “A lot of coaches are like that. They have a mindset about the kind of player they want. If that person isn’t that player right away, they don’t give them as much time to grow.”
And at the end of the day, Jalen came to the same conclusion.
“I felt like that really hurt me,” he said. “I wanted to maximize my potential.”
* * *
After two years in Blacksburg, Jalen had enough.
He was ready to compete for a coach who wanted him and in a system that fit his playing style.
On April 6, 2016, Williams announced that Jalen had been granted his release from Virginia Tech.
As for the Hudson family, faith would light the way.
“We’re a very spiritual family,” Chanel said. “We know that everything happens for a reason.”
Jalen, who was receiving interest from schools including Florida, Alabama, Arkansas and Texas, didn’t know much about the Gators, or their head coach, Mike White. What he did know was that his relationship with his next coach was more important than any other consideration.
“He wanted to make sure that wherever he went, the coach wanted him,” Jerry said.
After going through all of his options and making official visits to Florida and Texas, Jalen made up his mind: He would finish his college career in Gainesville.
Jerry was impressed by the lengths White went to pursue Jalen.
“(White) didn’t just send his assistants, he got on a plane himself,” Jerry said. “That struck a chord with Jalen.”
After sitting out the 2016-17 season per NCAA transfer rules, Jalen finally took the court for Florida on Nov. 13 in the team’s season opener against Gardner-Webb. He scored 16 points as the Gators rolled past the Runnin’ Bulldogs 116-74.
“I was just so happy for it to finally come,” Jalen said. “I was just so happy to finally be there.”
But he was just getting started.
Three games into the season, UF took part in the Phil Knight Invitational, a 16-team tournament held in Portland, Oregon, from Nov. 23 to 26. Jalen averaged 25.3 points and 5.7 rebounds per game during the event, leading the Gators to wins over Stanford and 2017 NCAA runner-up Gonzaga.
He recorded 24 points and 10 rebounds in Florida's final game of the bracket, a three-point loss to then-No. 1 Duke.
If people didn’t know Jalen Hudson’s name before, they did then.
With the final regular season game of the year set for Saturday against No. 23 Kentucky, Jalen will do his best to focus on the task at hand: securing a crucial win to bump up Florida’s national standing heading into the SEC and NCAA Tournaments.
He tries to stay in the moment, though.
He’ll tell you there’s no use in worrying about the future. He’ll echo his family’s love. He’ll repeat his words on faith.
“I try not to think about it too much,” Jalen said. “It’s already written.”
Correction: March 2, 2018
An earlier version of this article stated Jalen Hudson's mother's name was spelled Theresa. Her name is spelled Teresa.