How Three Stars Aligned To Create One Great Recruiting Class For Dayton

Jenna Giacone was in attendance when Dayton upset Louisville in the Sweet 16 last year. When the Flyers called, the No. 42 prospect was quick to answer. Courtesy of Jenna Giacone

Decked out in her red Dayton garb, Jordan Wilmoth was sitting center court, fourth row at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York, when the Flyers upset the Louisville Cardinals to advance to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

Directly across the court from Wilmoth that March day, about 10 rows up, was Jenna Giacone. The high school stars didn't know each other, but soon they will be in the same place yet again.

Wilmoth, a 6-foot-2 forward from Immaculate Heart Academy (Washington Township, New Jersey), already had committed to Dayton. Giacone, a 5-11 guard from Bethlehem Central (Delmar, New York) and the No. 42 prospect in the espnW HoopGurlz Top 100, wasn't even being recruited by Dayton. She was there as a fan -- the Times Union Center is 10 miles from her house.

Two days later, when the Flyers fell to eventual national champion UConn 91-70, Giacone was even more impressed. "UConn was always my dream school," Giacone said. "But I ended up rooting for Dayton because they were underdogs, and the show they put on was unbelievable.

"Seeing them go up by one point at halftime against the No. 1 team in the nation was pretty great."

Indeed, it was the first time in two seasons the Huskies had trailed at halftime. But Dayton (28-7) faded in the second half and Connecticut cruised from there. A couple of months later, while playing AAU ball for the Albany Capitals, Giacone got a call from a Dayton coach.

"I remembered the games they played in Albany," Giacone said. "I was excited for the call."

It wasn't long before she joined Wilmoth and 5-11 wing Jayla Scaife -- the Muncie Central star had committed in October 2014 and watched Dayton's run from her Indiana home -- in the Flyers' 2016 recruiting class.

All three are expected sign their national letters of intent this week after the NCAA's early signing period opens Wednesday.

Let's just say it's going to be epic.

Three stars

Jayla, Jenna and Jordan -- call them the "Triple J's." Or perhaps you could call them Dayton's best recruiting class ever. And maybe its most intriguing.

All three J's say Stephen Curry of the Golden State Warriors is their favorite player. More substantively, all three are serious students.

In fact, Wilmoth may be one of the few basketball players drawn to a school not by a coach or a high-profile player but by a dean.

Wilmoth, who carries a 3.6 GPA and averaged 12 points and 8.5 rebounds, is planning to major in computer engineering. "I love what technology can do for the world," she said. "It makes life easier, and I love working hands-on. I'm a math and science geek, so this major goes right along with that."

She had offers from Michigan, Penn State, Georgetown and George Washington, and was getting interest from Stanford and Florida. But Wilmoth, whose mom is principal at an elementary school and whose dad works in aviation management for the Port Authority at JFK Airport, is more impressed by academics than athletics.

That's why she was thrilled when she got to speak to Tony Saliba, Dayton's school of engineering dean emeritus.

"We had a two-hour conversation on the phone, and then I got a chance to meet him on my visit," Wilmoth said. "He was telling me the things I would be doing in my engineering classes, even as a freshman, and that excited me.

"He's a former soccer player, and he understands what it's like to be a student-athlete."

Wilmoth, whose father was unable to make the trip to Dayton, had a message for her dad when she returned home: "Daddy, this is the one."

Bonzi's cousin

Basketball runs in Scaife's blood. She's the cousin of former Portland Trail Blazers first-round pick Bonzi Wells, who played in the NBA from 1998 to 2008. About twice a week, he plays pickup ball at the local YMCA with Scaife, her dad and anyone else who shows up.

Scaife's brother, Jauwan, played guard at Ball State and is now an assistant coach with the Southeast Missouri State women's team. He set the school record in career 3-pointers made. He also earned a bachelor's degree in three years.

Jayla has a 4.3 GPA and plans to major in kinesiology.

Scaife said she's a Curry fan because "he's a good role model as a basketball player and as a Christian." She has been to the Dayton campus about a dozen times, enough to know that there are "great churches" around campus.

Lisa Blaylock, Scaife's high school coach, said her star player is a "remarkable person" and fundamentally sound on the court.

"She's a high-character kid in the way she communicates and the way she's always the first to volunteer to help in the community," Blaylock said.

A starter since her freshman year, Scaife averaged 22 points and 12 rebounds last season for a team that finished 22-5. She was named an Indiana Junior All-Star.

"Her game," Blaylock said, "is polished."

Final piece of the puzzle

Like Scaife and Wilmoth, Giacone is an A student. The only difference is Giacone has not yet decided on a major. She's operating under the premise she will take general studies initially, knowing she has two years to declare a major.

There is no uncertainty about her basketball skills, however.

She averaged 14.0 points and 5.5 assists last season, leading her team to New York's AA state semifinals. She was named to the all-tournament team at state and was also a Section 2 Class AA all-star.

Like Scaife, basketball runs in the family for Giacone. Her sister, Gabriella, is a 6-0 freshman forward at Northeastern. Jenna said she loves Dayton's up-tempo style. So, three days after her first Dayton visit in August, she committed to Flyers coach Jim Jabir.

"I had plane tickets reserved to take official visits to Virginia and Virginia Tech, but I cancelled those," Giacone said. "I called [Jabir] and gave him the news. It was his birthday, so that was pretty cool."