Former Sterlington guard and assistant coach Jaylon Naron signed an athletic letter-of-intent Friday morning with Southeastern Baptist, which is reinstating its basketball program after 30 years.
Jaylon Naron would be classified as a gym rat.
While many teams have that one athlete who is the first to practice and the last to leave, Naron took it a step further. It wasn't unusual for the 5-8 guard to return to the floor long after the crowd had left on game night or to unlock the gym in the morning before school.
Naron's practice habits even became known to the Sterlington Police.
"They had an alarm set (in the gym) from 11:30 at night until 5 in the morning," Sterlington coach Cory Emerson said. "Jaylon would still be here shooting when the alarm went off. The police would call me or the principal (Dell Ashley) and say somebody was breaking in the gym."
While most coaches dread midnight phone calls from the police, Emerson took them in stride.
"I'd tell them, 'That's just Jaylon up there shooting,'" Emerson laughed.
A 2017 Sterlington graduate and 3.5 student, Naron turned down a couple of opportunities to play college basketball. After a year off, he is resuming his career. Naron signed an athletic letter-of-intent with Southeastern Baptist College in Laurel, Mississippi late Friday morning. SBC is restarting its basketball program after a 30-year absence.
Naron didn't step away from the game entirely. He spent last season as an assistant coach for the Panthers and played intramural ball at ULM. And, of course, he continued to practice.
Shortly after joining the Panthers' staff, Naron began to second-guess his decision to give up on playing. But his efforts to find a school resulted in a dead end.
Fully convinced that his playing career was over, Naron received an unexpected call from Derrick Williams, a former Sterlington assistant. Williams, who coached Naron in his two years with the Panthers, spent last season as an assistant women's coach at Baton Rouge Community College. Shortly after being hired to assist Brad Phillips with the SBC Chargers' men's program, Williams contacted Naron, and everything fell into place.
Seeing the game from another angle has given Naron a unique insight.
"Learning from coach Emerson and everybody else has definitely given me a better understanding of the game," Naron said. "I learned about things I never gave much thought as a player such as clock management and gameplanning. I see the game a lot differently now."
Naron says he also gained a better grasp of the team concept over the past year.
"I learned the importance of being a great teammate," Naron said. "When they give out those awards at the banquet, I understand they're not fake. People don't think they're real, but they are. I used to be one of the ones that thought the Coaches Award and things like that were fake. Now I realize they're really important."
Emerson expects Naron's coaching experience to be an asset as he makes the transition back to the court.
"You definitely get a different perspective of the game as a coach," Emerson said. "I think having that year of experience on the bench will definitely be an advantage for him next year."
Naron transferred to Sterlington from West Ouachita as a junior. A two-year starter, he earned first-team All-District 2-2A accolades after averaging 17.5 points per game and shooting 42 percent from 3-point range as a senior.
Approximately 40 people attended the signing ceremony in the Panthers' Den lobby, including two of his former West Ouachita coaches, Josh Brown and Johnny Mercer, and several teammates. Naron was joined at the signing table by his father and assistant coach Jay Naron, Emerson and longtime friend Carson Brown.
"The toughest part about leaving West Ouachita, and the toughest part about leaving now is Carson," Naron said. "We've been best friends since day care.
"When I left West Ouachita, we had never been separated before. I was worried that we would drift apart after I left, and we started to after our junior year."
All it took was a couple of phone calls, and it was just like old times.
"Once basketball ended after our junior year, we started talking about gameplans and how much we were working," Naron said. "That was always in the back of my mind — I wanted to be working harder than Carson."
Brown continues to inspire Naron.
"I had kind of fallen out of love with the grind while I wasn't playing," Naron said. "To make it at any level, you have to love the grind. We've played a lot of pickup games and some real games together, which has given me a lot of confidence."
These days, Naron is ready to get back into the practice routine. He isn't even dreading the conditioning.
"I haven't been in an organized practice in two years," said Naron, who leaves for SBC on August 11. "I'm excited about that."