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Former Ohio State forward Jae’Sean Tate has overcome adversity to find success in the NBA

Most people would have given up on their dreams of playing in the NBA if they had gone through what Jae’Sean Tate did. Instead, it made Tate work even harder.

Houston Rockets v New Orleans Pelicans Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

There’s not much going right for the Houston Rockets this year. After finishing fourth in the Western Conference in the 2019-20 season, and losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in five games the Western Conference semifinals, the Rockets sent Russell Westbrook to the Washington Wizards during the offseason. The chances of the Rockets returning to the playoffs took an even bigger hit when early in the 2020-21 season, James Harden forced his way out of Houston.

With just under a month left in the NBA Houston sits last in the Western Conference, but everything hasn’t been terrible for the Rockets. One of the few bright spots for Houston has been the emergence of forward Jae’Sean Tate. While the majority of NBA players spend just a few years in college before moving on to the NBA, Tate has taken quite a different path to the league.

The Pickerington native spent four years at Ohio State, starting 110 games and averaging 11.7 points per game during his career with the Buckeyes. While Tate won’t go down as one of the best players in school history, he won over fans with his local ties and his toughness on the court. By the time his career finished, Tate scored 1,512 points, ranking 19th all-time in school history, and pulled down 771 rebounds.

The toughness that Tate displayed that made him such a fan favorite was something he learned at a young age. Tate had to be tough because of what he went through as a child. Tate’s mother Cori had planned on going to Toronto to celebrate a friend’s birthday, leaving Tate with his grandmother. Even though he was just eight years old, Tate had pleaded with his mother not to go.

Tate’s worst fears came true when just a couple days later it was learned that Cori had been murdered by her boyfriend, who would be convicted of murder three years later. Not only did Tate lose his mother, he was sent from Toledo to Pickerington, to live with his father Jermaine, who spent time playing basketball at Ohio State before transferring to Cincinnati.

Most kids dealing with having a parent murdered would have been scared for life. Tate didn’t let the loss define him, though. Instead, he used basketball as an outlet. As if losing a parent wasn’t tough enough, Tate also had to deal with ridicule from his peers because he was smaller than most kids. This made Tate work even harder to prove people wrong.

Eventually Tate would go through a growth spurt, which allowed him to gain the physical tools to match up with his toughness and work ethic. The work Tate put in eventually began to pay off, as he started to earn scholarship offers from Division I schools. Ohio State took notice, offering Tate a scholarship. The opportunity to follow in his father’s footsteps and play for the Buckeyes was just too good to pass up.

Tate’s Ohio State career got off to a strong start, earning a spot on the Big Ten’s All-Freshman team. Since it looked like Tate might not have the size that NBA teams coveted, it gave Tate plenty of time to earn the respect of Ohio State fans and coaches around the Big Ten. Even with Tate’s strong play on the court, the Buckeyes were struggling as a team, eventually leading to the program parting ways with head coach Thad Matta.

Right before his senior season, Tate had a choice to make. While nobody would have faulted Tate for wanting to start his professional career instead of having to adjust to a new head coach in his senior season, Tate decided to return to Columbus and finish what he started. The Buckeyes went on to make the NCAA Tournament in Chris Holtmann’s first season, with Tate being a huge reason for the success.

Even though Tate was preparing himself for not being selected in the NBA Draft following his senior year, it was still a disappointment to not hear his name called. The snub didn’t deter Tate in his dream of playing in the NBA though, it just made him work even harder for it. Tate knew he was going to have to go overseas to make a name for himself before returning to the states to earn a spot in the NBA.

Even the Antwerp Giants in Belgium didn’t expect much from Tate. While they had just signed Tate as a cheap, short-term injury replacement, Tate made the team keep him around with his play. Even though the Giants didn’t have the budget to pay Tate, the team president ended up paying Tate’s salary out of his own pocket. The move paid off, as Tate helped Antwerp to a final four run in the Champions League.

After spending some time with the Denver Nuggets in the NBA’s Summer League, Tate again head overseas prior to last year, this time taking his talents to Australia. Tate knew more eyes would be on him down under since NBA prospects LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton were also playing in the league.

It looked like Tate was going to be finally headed to the NBA, as he had a 10-day contract lined up once the team he was playing with in Australia finished their season, but those plans were erased when the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown the world. All of this while Australia was dealing with wildfires that were ravaging the country. It almost felt like the universe was conspiring against Tate to keep him out of the NBA.

Tate never gave up on his dream though, and his faith finally paid off. During the offseason the Houston Rockets signed Tate to a multiyear contract. It was a sense of relief for the Ohio State product, as it allowed him to return to the United States and have a bit of job security that he wouldn’t have had with a 10-day contract.

The signing of Tate is looking like one of the best moves made by any NBA team in the offseason. Even though Tate won’t win the NBA’s Rookie of the Year award, he definitely could make a case for being in the conversation. While Tate’s numbers aren’t flashy, he brings some stability to a franchise that is going through an overhaul right now. Despite technically being a rookie in the NBA, Tate is one of the most hardened NBA rookies you’ll ever see. Not only because of what he has gone through in his personal life, but also with what he has gone through in his basketball career.

Even though he is still reluctant to talk much about his mother, Tate has made sure he’ll never forget about her and the impact she had on his life, getting a tattoo of his mom’s name and birthday on his leg, and recently adding to it with a portrait of her. While the death of his mother could have resulted in Tate going down the wrong path, basketball helped to keep him on the right path and become the success that he is today.