There are bigger problems in the world than the pursuit of an NBA roster spot. Approaching his third year in professional pursuit of one, Jae’Sean Tate will readily admit that fact given the current state of the world.
But, man, would it be nice to catch a break one of these years.
After playing an integral role in what had been the best season in more than a decade for Australia’s Sydney Kings, Tate was set to return to the United States with a handful of NBA opportunities lined up. This wasn’t new territory ‒ a broken finger cost him a summer league opportunity after graduating from Ohio State, and an earthquake robbed him of two games the following year ‒ but this was to be the latest and possibly greatest step toward Tate realizing his dream of making an NBA roster.
Then he found himself in a team meeting in Australia arguing for the cancellation of the best-of-five championship series in which the Kings trailed 2-1. It was roughly a week after the NBA had suspended its season, and with the coronavirus pandemic escalating worldwide, Tate wanted to get home.
Even if, when he got there, the NBA opportunities that had been so close were postponed indefinitely.
“You’ve got to play the hand you’re dealt,” Tate, a Pickerington Central grad, told The Dispatch. “It just adds more fuel to the fire. I’ve improved every year with the obstacles that have come my way. I feel like I’m right there, and there’s multiple teams that feel like I’m right there, too. The chance will come.”
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For the first time in 12 years, the Kings finished the regular season atop the National Basketball League standings and played their way into the championship series. In his first season with the team, Tate was second in scoring at 16.8 points and third in rebounding at 5.7. He shot 64% from the field, 39% on three-pointers, and averaged 27.1 minutes per game.
The NBL, featuring teams from Australia and New Zealand, was one of the final two leagues still playing when the Kings hosted the Perth Wildcats in a game March 15 in front of no fans. Game 4 of the series was set for five days later, but the Kings organization held a meeting with its players and coaches to discuss how they wanted to proceed.
Tate voted to end the season.
“We ultimately came to the conclusion of going ahead and sending us home to our families safe and sound,” he said. “I think the club showed tremendous leadership. The world was changing every day. My takeaway on it was the uncertainty of how long until, having a president like ours, how long until he just closes the borders down to everybody, not just people visiting or people without visas?”
Tate wouldn’t have to sweat it out very long. Within hours of deciding to cancel the remainder of the series, the Kings had him on his way back home. Connecting through Los Angeles, Tate said he saw a fair number of travelers wearing protective masks. When the virus began to spread, Tate said, he wore one around Sydney.
It was around St. Patrick’s Day that he arrived back in central Ohio. Now, he’s like everyone else: fighting off cabin fever, trying to stay in some semblance of shape and wondering when this will all end.
Tate said this is the first chance he’s had to rest his body for more than a week at a time since he graduated from Ohio State in 2018.
“Not being able to get in the gym is definitely hard to get your thoughts around,” he said. “Being an athlete, we’ve always been on sort of a schedule since we were 10, 11 years old. You go to this tournament, you go to this practice, you have an offseason schedule.
“Just the unknown of how long this is going to last and the uncertainties around it is something that all athletes are struggling with right now.”
So Tate is in the same boat as any number of pro basketball players, wondering what the future will hold or what opportunities will present themselves whenever things return to normal.
History has shown he finds a way to make something happen for himself. Maybe this time, fate will side with him.