KaJuan Hale set out on a recruitment trip earlier this month, with planned stops at California Baptist University (CBU) and the University of Hawaii as he searched for the next stop in his basketball career. But as soon as the Gainesville High graduate arrived at CBU’s Riverside, California, campus, he knew his search was over.
Hale cancelled his trip to Honolulu and then signed on to become a Lancer.
“I liked it, so I committed,” he said.
Hale’s decision comes after a year at Walters State Community College, an experience that the 5-foot-10 guard called “humbling.” Playing Division I basketball has long been a dream for him, and having to spend a year in JUCO out of high school was disheartening.
But as soon as the deal with his new school was finalized, Hale knew his season spent in Morristown, Tennessee, had been worth it.
“Relief. Excited. Words can’t explain it,” he said of his emotions upon signing. “All my hard work had paid off.”
Hale said the basketball-loving culture within the California Baptist athletic program was the biggest deciding factor in his choice to forego his opportunity in Hawaii.
“(I liked) the way they work as a team,” he said. “Their coaches are all in to help their players get better.”
It’s the type of culture that Hale was accustomed to during his time with the Red Elephants.
Hale grew under the tutelage of then Gainesville and current Cherokee Bluff coach Benjie Wood in high school, reaching a state championship during his senior season. He said the experience played a major role in getting him to where he is now.
“It helped me grow as a man, and mainly better my attitude,” he said. “They helped me understand the game more.”
Wood had similarly high praise for Hale.
“They’re getting a pitbull,” Wood said of what California Baptist basketball fans have to expect from their new point guard. “He is full of passion and desire, and they’re getting an explosive athlete. He’s an absolute pitbull. He competes with the best of them. ... As I told the coach the other day, they’re getting a guy that when the lights come on, he’s going to lay everything on the line to help his team win.”
Hale has kept in contact with the Gainesville coaching staff since leaving the school in 2018, and said the supportive base Wood provides is extremely important to him. Just as important is the desire to improve, which has been with him since he began playing basketball.
Already a skilled passer of the ball, Hale said he’s spent the last year working on his shots to prepare his game for the next level.
Long-term, Hale said he wasn’t entirely sure what his aspirations are at California Baptist. But more immediately, he’s been working on a two-item list of goals that is now officially half done. First, he wanted to join a Division I team.
“Proving everybody wrong.”