Always grinding, Ohio State's Jae'Sean Tate has shot at NBA dream with Houston Rockets

Adam Jardy
Buckeye Xtra
Former Ohio State forward Jae'Sean Tate has overcome injuries and even a natural disaster to land an NBA shot with the Houston Rockets.

Time and time again, the universe seems to have done its best to derail Jae’Sean Tate’s basketball dream.

A broken finger cost him an NBA Summer League opportunity shortly after his Ohio State career ended in 2018. An earthquake denied him another opportunity the following summer. And then his return from a standout season in Sydney, Australia, earned him interest from NBA teams only to see his potential workouts canceled as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down league operations for months.

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He even contracted the virus this summer, preventing him from an appearance in The Basketball Tournament that could have further raised his stock. But rather than pack it in, Tate continued to work out, grow his game, reshape his body and keep himself ready for an opportunity.

The day has finally arrived. Tate is signing a three-year contract with the Houston Rockets, an agreement that could be officially announced Friday and the basics of which were reported by the Houston Chronicle on Sunday.

“I feel like throughout my career, it’s never been easy,” Tate told The Dispatch. “I’ve always had to battle. That work ethic, that will to want to be one of the top players at the top level, every time an obstacle hit me I was just like, ‘Oh, I’ve been through this before. I’ve been through worse.’ 

“That’s all that really goes through my mind.”

Former Ohio State captain Jae'Sean Tate (24) played in Australia last year for the Sydney Kings.

That positive outlook has buoyed Tate, a Pickerington Central graduate. The broken pinky finger while with the Milwaukee Bucks cost him a shot at a training camp, sending him to Belgium, where he had to play his way into a full-time contract. Then after losing a summer league game with Denver when the ground shook in Las Vegas, the only game to be canceled due to the earthquake, Tate was off to Australia, where he took a pay cut to play for the Sydney Kings.

When the 2020 postseason was canceled, Tate rushed to get out of the country before the borders were closed. His growth took off from there, as for the first time in his career he had roughly six months (minus a week or two lost to a positive COVID test) to simply devote to getting better.

He transitioned to a paleo diet on the advice of former Ohio State teammate D’Angelo Russell. He worked relentlessly on his outside shot, allowing him to move to small forward rather than being an undersized power forward.

“I think that I’ve become the best version of myself in these six months,” he said. “I’ve completely transitioned my game to more outside-in. I really had to lock into my diet and that’s where I started seeing changes.”

Tate’s devotion to the game became evident to Dan Dakich, the ESPN announcer and former Bowling Green and Indiana coach, upon his graduation. Seeking the best workout spot possible, Tate lived with the Dakich family and former teammate Andrew Dakich while training with Joey Burton in the Indianapolis area to help improve his outside shot. During those few weeks, the elder Dakich gained an appreciation for Tate’s drive and enthusiasm for life.

“First off, he’s the nicest kid ever,” Dakich said. “Ralph Waldo Emerson said nothing great ever happens without enthusiasm. I’m paraphrasing a little bit, but it’s true, and he has that. I’m telling you, he has a thing where it just doesn’t get him down.

“It’s the greatest news I’ve heard in a long, long time. I love that kid.”

Upon getting the deal with the Rockets, Tate said he got in touch with former Ohio State coach Thad Matta and his strength and conditioning coach, Dave Richardson, to thank them for helping him get started. Tate joins Keita Bates-Diop and Russell in the NBA, and all three were in the 2014 Buckeyes recruiting class.

“He can recruit,” Tate said of Matta. “He got three from the class in the league, man. And that’s when people were like, ‘Oh, I don’t know if he can recruit.’ ”

When he reports to the Rockets, Tate said he’s planning to wear No. 8 unless a more experienced player signs and gets dibs. He’s ready, as he put it, “to be an old rookie” competing for a job.

The work isn’t done. Tate said the contract will have club options and described it as a standard undrafted free-agent deal. He’ll have to keep working, keep grinding and keep shooting in order to stick.

But it’s a chance. His foot’s in the door. If history is any indication, Tate is going to make the most of the opportunity.

“I don’t think it’ll hit me until I actually have it sitting in front of me and see that name on the back of that jersey,” Tate said. “There’s still more work to do. Just because I’m getting my foot in that door and getting a chance, I still have to show that I’m not satisfied with just getting a deal. I want to be here for the long term.”