Since he was a boy playing Biddy Basketball in Wichita, Samajae Haynes-Jones has scored at will everywhere he's gone.
From middle school to high school, where he led East to a state championship his senior year, to junior college, where he won another title with Hutchinson in 2016, Haynes-Jones has produced buckets.
But that stopped for much of his first season at Wichita State, an uneven junior year that saw him drop 31 and 27 points in the non-conference portion of the Shockers' schedule, then not play in eight of their final nine games. Haynes-Jones averaged 3.2 points in 9.4 minutes the other 22 games in which he appeared.
"No matter what level he's been at, he's never had to sit the bench before because he's always been the man," said Joe Jackson, Haynes-Jones' former coach at East. "I definitely think that was humbling for him. Moving forward, I think Samajae is ready to show everyone what he's really about this year."
With Landry Shamet declaring for the NBA Draft and the Shockers transitioning eight players to the Division I level, the path is clear for Haynes-Jones to become WSU's starting point guard.
Three months after the end of a frustrating junior season, Haynes-Jones said he's determined to make his impact next season.
"This is the most motivation I've ever had," Haynes-Jones said. "This is my senior year, this is it. I want to be the best player and the best person I can be at this moment in my life."
Complicating matters last season was a stomach ailment that Haynes-Jones said made him feel nauseous every time he was set to check into the game. He visited doctors to try to figure out what was wrong, but it kept returning and ultimately led to his removal from Gregg Marshall's rotation down the stretch.
Following the season, Haynes-Jones discovered his problems stemmed from anxiety. This summer he's making sure to eat healthier and working out more regularly. He wants to become the leader he knows he can be.
Haynes-Jones has moved into a house with fellow returners Markis McDuffie and Rod Brown, as well as junior-college transfer Jaime Echenique. He's inviting other teammates over regularly and wants to create a bond early in the summer.
"It's pretty much just mental and I have to believe in my mind that I'm good enough," Haynes-Jones said. "I know I'm good enough, I just have to keep doing the right things. I was quiet last year, but this year I want to be more vocal. Last year I was learning the ropes, but this year I'm going to be a leader. That's definitely helping me out with my anxiety."
In his debut season, Haynes-Jones was effective in certain aspects.
He was at his best when attacking in transition, where according to Synergy Sports he made 59.3 percent (16 of 27) of his shots. He also proved to be a reliable spot-up shooter, drilling eight of 17 three-pointers in such situations, including all five corners threes, and shooting 43.8 percent (14 of 32) overall from three-point range.
But where Haynes-Jones can improve the most on offense is in the half-court setting when he attacks the basket. According to Synergy, his field-goal percentage plummeted to 33.3 on layups or floaters in the paint, and of those 36 attempts, a quarter of them (nine) were blocked.
"I just have to be smarter when I drive the ball," Haynes-Jones said. "I learned that it's a lot tougher than (junior college). I could have done a lot more floaters, and then I have to know when to kick the ball. I've been working on improving those decisions when I go in there with all those big trees."
According to Jackson, it's an adjustment Haynes-Jones can make after experiencing what it's like to play against the shot-blockers of the American Athletic Conference.
"In the past he's been able to get those shots off, even at the junior-college level," Jackson said. "But the American was a different beast. There was a little bit of an adjustment period playing those high-level teams. I don't think there's any question he's capable of finishing down there and becoming the floor-general type."
While Haynes-Jones has the scoring pedigree to play shooting guard, his size (6 foot, 177 pounds) limits him to mostly guarding point guards on defense. He'll compete for playing time with junior-college transfer Ricky Torres at point guard, although Marshall could end up playing both on the court at the same time.
Haynes-Jones clarified that notion, saying he views himself as a point guard.
"I'm becoming more of a leader and I'm being more talkative in practice," Haynes-Jones said. "I know what I'm supposed to do coming off a screen and how to get other people involved. And then I know I can score it, as well. I think I'm a scoring point guard — that's what I am."
However it shakes out, Haynes-Jones wants to show his supporters in Wichita what he can do for his hometown team.
"My life has been tough and I know how to fight through adversity every single day," Haynes-Jones said. "So that's what I've been doing and I'm still doing that to this day. I'm just getting better and better as a person and as a player, and I hope this year is my best yet."