Archdeacon: Flyers’ Jayla Scaife wears family tradition with pride

Dayton’s Jayla Scaife during a game vs. George Washington earlier this season at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics
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Dayton’s Jayla Scaife during a game vs. George Washington earlier this season at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics

What began by chance has now become, as Jayla Scaife put it: “cherished.”

Back in the late 1980s, Rob Scaife was a freshman who made the varsity basketball team at Muncie Central High School in Indiana. As the young kid, he took whatever jersey he could get.

“I switched numbers around,” he said. “I was No. 40, then 54 and 52. Another player ended up quitting, so they gave me his jersey – No. 42 – and I wore it all four years of high school.”

He had a standout career at Muncie Central and then played at Florida College, a Christian junior college in Temple Terrace, Fla.

His nephew, who was a few years younger, looked up to him because Rob would allow him to join his team when they played pickup games at the local community center. When that kid got to Muncie Central, he decided to wear his uncle’s number as a way of honoring him.

That’s how Bonzi Wells began wearing No. 42.

He became a star at Muncie Central and then a legend a nearby Ball State, where he was a two-time Mid-American Conference Player of the Year and set the MAC all-time career records for points scored and steals.

Wells was a first-round draft pick of the Detroit Pistons in 1998 and over the next decade played for five NBA teams before finishing his career in China and Puerto Rico.

That Muncie community center, by the way, now has named its basketball facility The Bonzi Wells Gymnasium.

And his No. 42 has been retired at Ball State.

The next family member in the basketball spotlight was Rob and wife Wilisha’s son, Jauwan. Wearing No. 42, he starred at Muncie Central and then went to Ball State, as well.

“He couldn’t wear 42 there because it was hanging from the rafters,” Wilisha said. “So he became No. 4.”

He finished as the 14th all-time scorer at Ball State with 1,326 points and now is an assistant women’s basketball coach at Murray State.

Eventually a few other relatives began to wear the family number and that’s when Rob – who was a longtime detective with the Muncie Police Department and led the gang task force before becoming the pastor of the United Missionary Baptist Church in Muncie – offered a directive.

“I talked to family members about wearing No. 42,” he said with a bit of a laugh. “I told them, ‘If you’re going to put that 42 jersey on, you’ve at least got to do something when you’re wearing it. Don’t just put it on to put it on. We wear it with pride.’”

And no one took that message to heart more than daughter, Jayla.

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Dayton’s Jayla Scaife puts up a shot vs. Rhode Island earlier this season at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics

Dayton’s Jayla Scaife puts up a shot vs. Rhode Island earlier this season at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics
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Dayton’s Jayla Scaife puts up a shot vs. Rhode Island earlier this season at UD Arena. Erik Schelkun/Dayton Athletics

Wearing the familiar No. 42, she became the all-time leading scorer and rebounder at Muncie Central.

Now a 5-foot-10 senior guard at the University of Dayton — where she again wears No. 42 — she had a game-high 16 points and 12 rebounds Wednesday night to lead the Flyers to a 78-51 victory over St. Bonaventure at UD Arena, a win that gave Dayton, with its 14-1 conference mark, the outright A-10 title.

Her totals Wednesday give her 1,400 points and 602 rebounds in her Dayton career, a mark only eight other Flyers women have reached.

While she’s in select company at UD, Scaife admitted she’s had to live up to just as high of a standard on the hoops home front:

“That jersey is cherished in our family.”

Hoops inspiration

As she’s blossomed in her basketball career, Scaife said she’s drawn inspiration from a couple of other accomplished players.

“Tamika Catchings is one player I’ve looked up to,” she said of the former Tennessee All American who was a 10-time WNBA All Star in her 15-year career with the Indiana Fever.

“I was able to have a relationship with her through somebody in my church who had had season tickets at Tennessee when Tamika played and would stay after and (talk to her.)

“She talks to me every now and then and I text A’ja Wilson (the Las Vegas Aces star out of South Carolina) too.”

While Catchings and Wilson went to Power 5 conference schools, Scaife opted to come to UD rather than accept a Big Ten offer.

“I liked the family atmosphere here, it seemed natural,” she said. “A lot of schools, if you’re recruited there, they say they are a family within the team and outside the team, but it kinda felt fake at some of those schools.

“At Dayton, President Spina comes to our games. Our athletics director, Neil (Sullivan), comes to our (basketball) office. It’s just a community. It seemed I wouldn’t get as much one-on-one at those other schools. There you have to compete for your spot at every practice. To me, those coaches are looking for starters more so than developing a player.”

UD coach Shauna Green said Scaife’s story is not unique: “We’ve gotten a lot of players who were recruited by big-time schools, big-time leagues, but they liked the smaller environment, the family atmosphere. And they are able to compete at a high level here because we play as hard of a schedule as we can in the non-conference and they have a chance to compete for a national championship.”

Scaife has won All A-10 honors her first three seasons at UD. Along the way she’s had several big games: 35 points against Rhode Island as a sophomore, 27 in a victory over Georgia Tech last year, 25 against Davidson this season.

After a final regular season game at St. Louis on Saturday, the 21-8 Flyers almost certainly need to win the A-10 tournament at UD Arena next weekend to make the NCAA Tournament, which they made in Scaife’s first two seasons here, but missed last year.

“Sure that’s in the back of our mind, but I feel like last year we got a little ahead of ourselves trying to get to the NCAA Tournament and forgot we had to go one game at a time,” Scaife said. “We won’t do that this year.”

Coaching career next?

After Wednesday’s game, several of Scaife’s family members from Muncie waited beyond the Flyers locker room for her to emerge.

“We had over 50 people here for Senior Day,” Wilisha said of the Flyers’ Feb. 16 game with VCU.

While Jayla has immersed herself at UD – along with working toward spring graduation with a degree in psychology and basketball, she’s in the Delta Sigma Theta sorority that’s involved in the African American community – she hasn’t forgotten her Muncie roots.

While almost no one knows it at UD, she can “sing and dance” her mother said:

“When she comes back home she helps with the youth choir at church. She’s a good singer, but she always keeps that her secret thing here, her hidden talent.”

Scaife said her teammates have not heard her sing: “A few who know have tried to get me to do it, but I never have. I don’t think I’m good, but people who have heard me think I’m really good.”

Another thing a lot of people might not expect is that when she finishes her UD career, she said her playing days will end, too,

Rather than try to play professionally somewhere, she said she wants to be a college coach similar to her brother.

After his career, Jauwan became a grad assistant at Ball State before joining the Evansville staff and then Southeast Missouri before Murray State.

“I feel I’d be just as good of an asset on the sideline as I am on the court,” Scaife said.

Before the family left UD Arena on Wednesday night, Jayla posed for photos with her dad and her mom, who was wearing a No. 42 jersey.

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Dayton women’s basketball standout Jayla Scaife with her family after Wednesday night’s win over St. Bonaventure at UD Arena. Pictured from left: her dad Rob, Jayla, her mom Wilisha and younger sister Jasi. CONTRIBUTED

Dayton women’s basketball standout Jayla Scaife with her family after Wednesday night’s win over St. Bonaventure at UD Arena. Pictured from left: her dad Rob, Jayla, her mom Wilisha and younger sister Jasi. CONTRIBUTED
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Dayton women’s basketball standout Jayla Scaife with her family after Wednesday night’s win over St. Bonaventure at UD Arena. Pictured from left: her dad Rob, Jayla, her mom Wilisha and younger sister Jasi. CONTRIBUTED

After a couple of shots, they wanted to make the family portrait complete and beckoned younger daughter Jasi to join them. She’s a 15-year-old, 5-foot-10 sophomore at Muncie Central who’s just begun playing basketball again.

“She’ll be the next one wearing No. 42,” Rob said proudly. “We’ll work with her now to get her ready for next season.”

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