Many of the fans who come to watch Christ Presbyterian Academy basketball games leave the gym in amazement and disbelief.
“Is this guy really an eighth-grader?’’ they wonder. Well, the fact is that 13-year-old Jalen Lindsey is in eighth grade — and the youngster is not only one of the best players for the Lions but one of the best in Nashville.
Thanks in big part to Lindsey, the Lions got off to a roaring start and have continued the pace at the halfway point of the season. For a team that lost 98 percent of its scoring and rebounding from a year ago, CPA had some gaps to fill.
So Lindsey has begun filling them, and no one has had a bigger impact on the squad's 14-2 start than he has. The wiry 6-6, 160-pound Lindsey leads the Lions with 6.5 rebounds per game and his 12.6 scoring average ranks second for the team. He’s also shooting 55 percent from the field.
Even more surprising is that Lindsey has remarkable maturity and insight for someone his age — almost to the point of a seasoned senior.
Asked if he was surprised at how well he has played so far on the varsity level, Lindsey said, “yes, very surprised.”
“My teammates have been great, made me feel right at home and accepted me as one of them. They have all been very helpful and supportive,” he said. “I have a lot of things to work on, so many things I can improve in my game.”
Lindsey’s presence brings a smile to the face of fourth-year coach Drew Maddux, who played on the same Goodpasture team with another high profile eighth-grader — Ron Mercer — who went on to play for Kentucky, then in the NBA.
Maddux has heard comparisons tossed about. Those include reminders of previous Nashville area early phenoms like Mercer and Brandan Wright (Brentwood Academy, now with the Golden State Warriors), both Mr. Basketball winners.
Still he doesn’t like to jump into comparisons when asked the obvious question.
“Let’s put it this way,’’ he said. “At this point in his career, Jalen can certainly be put into the discussion as to how well in his development thus far as compared to Ron. He has so much poise and, at times, reminds me a lot of Ron at that age.’’
Already, several Division I coaches are inquiring about Lindsey and trying to be the first to get their foot in the door.
“It became a distraction,’’ Maddux said. “We appreciate the attention, but we’ve tried to ask the coaches to respect Jalen. There will be plenty of time for that in the future.’’
Lindsey started playing hoops at age five, then began team play in the recreational leagues in Murfreesboro. He credits older brother Chris, 23, in his development.
He has a smooth, polished game and his sleek movement and lightning quickness allow him to collect a lot of rebounds and second (and third) chance points. He first played for Maddux on a 12-under AAU team, the Tennessee Tigers, between his sixth and seventh grades. The team made it to the national tournament.
“My father (Walter) knew coach Maddux had played for Vanderbilt, and my mother (Sandra) knew of his great reputation as a coach,’’ he said. “I am thankful to God that I met coach Maddux and that I am getting to play for him.’’
To play for Maddux at CPA, the family had to moved from Murfreesboro to Brentwood, clearing the proper TSSAA channels. But playing on the varsity was a bit unexpected.
“There was a lot of thought that went into our bringing an eighth-grader up to varsity level from a social and maturity aspect. We sat down and talked with his family,’’ Maddux said.
“Jalen’s a special young man, he’s handled all the intangibles. We felt he could play at this level, handle the situation. He’s very humble. He has two great parents in Walter and Sandra who laid the foundation, kept him grounded and helped develop him into a wonderful young man.’’
“We were talking about my playing varsity when I was in middle school, and I knew there was that possibility,” Jalen said.
He credits his teammates for making the transition easy for him.
“Ever since we started summer camps, working out with us, we’ve all adapted to him and him to us,’’ said senior and fellow inside player Matt Zelenik, 6-5, 245. “Jalen’s very much a part of everything we do. He’s coming along very quickly. I think we have a chance to do special things, if we all keep working hard and improving.’’
His goals are typical — to play Div. I basketball and eventually make it to the NBA.
Asked what his first high school game felt like at such a young age, Lindsey said he was just trying to stay calm.
“It was against Hillwood, and the crowd was crazy,” he remembered. “I tried to stay calm, play my game like any other game. We won, that was the main thing.’’
His mother Sandra must have known something when she named her son Jalen. “It was for Jalen Rose (Michigan and NBA star),’’ he said. “She always liked him.’’
He says his favorite players are LeBron James and Kevin Garnett — Garnett because people say Jalen's build and style are very comparable to the Boston star. But his wiry build doesn't go unnoticed.
“People have called me string bean, along with a lot of other names,’’ he said with a laugh. Not many opponents are laughing though.