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Jae’Sean Tate caps off debut season in NBA by earning NBA All-Rookie First Team honors

Even though the former Buckeye didn’t take the traditional path to the NBA, the Pickerington product never gave up on his dream.

NBA: Houston Rockets at Denver Nuggets Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Not a lot went right for the Houston Rockets this year, but at least they were able to find themselves a steal when they signed Jae’Sean Tate as a free agent. On Friday, Tate was named to the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team. The forward became just the sixth Buckeye to earn All-Rookie Team honors.

Tate is the first Ohio State alum to be named to the NBA’s All-Rookie Team since D’Angelo Russell was named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team following the 2015-16 season after he was taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the second pick in the 2015 NBA Draft. Prior to Russell, the last Buckeye to earn All-Rookie honors was Clark Kellogg for his play in the 1982-83 season for the Indiana Pacers. Other Buckeyes recognized for their rookie campaigns were John Havlicek (1962-63), Jerry Lucas (1963-64), and Kelvin Ransey (1980-81).

Joining Tate on this year’s NBA All-Rookie First Team are LaMelo Ball of the Charlotte Hornets, Anthony Edwards of the Minnesota Timberwolves, Tyrese Haliburton of the Sacramento Kings, and Saddiq Bey of the Detroit Pistons. Edwards was taken with the first overall pick, Ball was selected with the third pick, Haliburton was taken 12th, and Bey was selected 19th overall.

Unlike the four joining him, Tate wasn’t drafted in the 2020 NBA Draft. In fact, Tate wasn’t drafted when he exhausted his eligibility at Ohio State following the 2017-18 season. The Pickerington product was going to play for the Milwaukee Bucks in the 2018 NBA Summer League, but he was unable to play due to a fractured finger.

Even though he faced some early adversity, Tate didn’t give up on his dream of playing in the NBA. Tate signed a contract with the Antwerp Giants in Belgium, Originally the team thought Tate was only going to be an inexpensive, short-term injury replacement, but Tate impressed enough that the team president ended up paying Tate out of his own pocket. The risk was well worth it, as Tate helped Antwerp make the Final Four of the Champions League.

Even though Tate found some success in Belgium, it still wasn’t enough to help him earn a spot in the NBA. While Tate was able to play with the Denver Nuggets’ summer league team, he wasn’t offered a contract for the 2019-20 season. Tate again took his talents overseas, this time signing with the Sydney Kings of the National Basketball League in Australia.

There was a method to Tate’s madness for going to play down under. Plenty of NBA scouts were going to be keeping a close eye on the NBL because NBA prospects LaMelo Ball and R.J. Hampton were playing in the league. Tate made sure the scouts noticed him, averaging 16.4 points per game and 5.8 rebounds per game, earning a spot on the All-NBL First Team.

On November 26th, 2020, Tate signed with the Houston Rockets. While Tate was expected to contribute to the Rockets, nobody knew he was going to play as big of a role as he did this season. Tate made his NBA debut on December 26th against the Portland Trailblazers. Houston was missing Eric Gordon, John Wall, and DeMarcus Cousins due to COVID-19 protocols, forcing Tate into playing 37 minutes off the bench in a 128-126 overtime loss. Tate finished the game with 13 points, four rebounds, and was a +14.

After coming into the season as a playoff contender, Houston’s season was turned completely upside down when former MVP James Harden forced his way out of Houston in a four-team deal that sent Harden to Brooklyn. Following his debut, Tate played between 15 and 25 minutes in the next eight games. Following the Harden trade, there was a noticeable bump in Tate’s playing time, as he was usually playing at least 25 minutes per game. On the night of the trade, Tate recorded his first double-double in the NBA, scoring 13 points and dishing out 10 assists in a 109-105 victory over San Antonio.

Los Angeles Clippers v Houston Rockets Photo by Troy Fields/NBAE via Getty Images

It was obvious that Tate’s confidence level was increasing as the season went on. March saw Tate put forward some of his best performances of the season. After starting the month with 12 points and 10 rebounds on March 3rd in a loss to Brooklyn, Tate scored a career-high 25 points on March 16th against the Atlanta Hawks. Later in the month, Tate scored 22 points in a win over Toronto, and notched 24 points in a 120-110 loss to Memphis on March 29th.

To close out the season, Tate became a more consistent scorer, recording at least 10 points in 16 of Houston’s last 23 games of the year. On May 8th, Tate nearly recorded his first triple-double, falling two assists shy of the mark in a loss to Utah. By the time the regular season ended, Tate finished his rookie campaign with 11.3 points per game, 5.3 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game.

With the trade of Harden, Houston is now in the rebuilding process, but there shouldn’t be a question as to if Tate is a part of those plans. While Tate will never be a superstar in the league, he has quickly become a fan favorite because of his gritty play. Ohio State fans saw Tate do a little bit of everything in Columbus for four years, and now Rockets fans have gotten an introduction to what Tate brings to the table.

Tate dealt with tragedy at a young age after his mother was murdered when he was just eight years old. Instead of letting the loss of a parent define him, Tate used basketball as an outlet. As he was growing up, Tate was often smaller than most kids, which forced him to work harder. There are a lot of similarities with his path to college and the NBA, as he had to put in more work to get his foot in the door.

While it may have taken more time than he was hoping to make it to the NBA, Tate can now say that he made it. Not only did Tate make it to the top basketball league in the world, he can say he was one of the best rookies in the league in his first season. Now it’ll be interesting to see where Tate goes after such a tremendous start to his NBA career.