Jason Preston was close to becoming a college basketball star in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The current Ohio men’s basketball standout, who will lead the Bobcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against No. 4 seed Virginia on Saturday night, received just two scholarship offers before his college playing days.
He accepted Ohio’s offer, but before the Bobcats were in the recruiting mix, it was Longwood that sought after the unheralded prep-school recruit.
“He’s a kid that man, holy cow, we really, really wanted,” Cody Anderson, a former Longwood assistant and current high school head coach in Georgia, said. “Up until the last hour when Ohio got involved, I thought we were going to get him.”
While few people knew about Preston in prep school, the Big South school in Farmville, Virginia, loved the point guard’s potential. He’s 6-foot-4 with exceptional length. He understands the game and sees the floor well. His jump shot has only improved over the years.
Despite solid basketball acumen, Preston didn’t post wildly impressive stats and he was on the skinny side, which led to him flying under the radar of most teams.
In his third season with the Bobcats, Preston is showcasing improved strength and shooting. The eye-popping numbers are there. The guard averages 16.6 points, 7.2 assists and 6.8 rebounds per game.
UVa head coach Tony Bennett recently compared Preston to former Virginia star Ty Jerome.
“I don’t know if the guy ever watched Ty, but there are so many similarities to the way he controls the game,” Bennett said on his radio show Monday. “He’s gifted.”
Preston’s feel for the game is phenomenal, and he shoots 40.8% from beyond the 3-point line. Like Jerome, the point guard does a little bit of everything for his team.
“I saw him play for the first time and immediately offered him,” Griff Aldrich, Longwood’s current head coach, said. “In fact, that was my first year as a head coach at Longwood, and he’s the first scholarship offer I ever made. Turns out, I was right.”
The athleticism and length stood out to Aldrich, but Preston’s story inspired him even more to recruit the prospect. Preston overcame significant adversity in high school. His father wasn’t in his life, and his mom died of lung cancer when he was 15 years old.
Despite the obstacles, Preston responded well to the adversity.
He posted impressive SAT scores and grades. Aldrich remembers seeing that Preston’s GPA hadn’t slipped despite the many obstacles he faced. That impressed him even more than Preston’s play.
“What an amazing kid,” Aldrich said.
Aldrich, whose faith helps guide his decisions, felt a calling to recruit Preston. He loved the youngster’s basketball potential, but perhaps more importantly, he liked Preston as a person.
He wanted Preston in his program and felt the match could be mutually beneficial.
“I personally feel a desire and a call to help kids, and I was like, ‘Man, this is exactly the type of kid who we’d love to nurture,’” Aldrich said.
Preston shared only positives earlier this week when looking back at his recruitment with Longwood. He liked the coaching staff and the Lancers were in play to land his commitment.
Ohio swopped in late in the process, and Preston bonded quickly with current junior forward Ben Vander Plas. He opted to join Ohio because of potential future teammates like Vander Plas.
“I think my relationship with the players was the biggest difference,” Preston said. “It took me about a week to decide, and then I was like, ‘Ohio is what I want.’”
Instead of becoming a star in the Big South, Preston is a standout in the MAC. He earned first team All-MAC honors this season for his remarkable play. He even scored 31 points and dished out eight assists without a turnover in a November matchup with Illinois, which earned a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Longwood didn’t add the budding mid-major star, but the coaches who initially offered Preston still keep tabs on the guard. They’re thrilled to see him succeed, even if the success comes in a different uniform than what they originally hoped.
They’ll be pulling for the player the rest of his life.
“I do try to reach out to him a few times a year just to let him know how proud I am of him,” Anderson said. “At the end of the day, he’s one of those rare kids that when you meet him, you just know, like this kid is gonna change people just by simply who he is and the things that he does.”