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New season, new role: Jalen Lake embraces team-first mentality

Guard+Jalen+Lake+%2815%29+shoots+a+three+pointer+over+a+defender+at+the+University+of+Colorado+Boulder+basketball+game
Collegian | Reuel Indurkar
Colorado State University guard Jalen Lake (15) shoots a 3-pointer over a defender at the University of Colorado Boulder basketball game Dec. 8. Lake shot 25% for 3-pointers made during the game. CSU lost 93-65.

With success comes sacrifices, and every great team has to make them. 

For Colorado State men’s basketball, that’s no different. With star guard Isaiah Stevens returning and several great new players joining, Jalen Lake is just one of the players making sacrifices for the betterment of the team as the Rams’ sixth man.

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In the postgame press conference after the season opener, coach Niko Medved mentioned that a lot of players are playing in new roles this season and making sacrifices for the greater good of the team. 

Lake, who started in 21 of the 26 games the Rams played last season, came off the bench Monday night against Louisiana Tech.

“I think it’s a matter of buying into my role,” Lake said. “Whether I’m starting or I’m coming off the bench, whenever I’m stepping on the floor, I’ll be ready to play. It’s just buying into my role and making that sacrifice.”

Lake coming off the bench has nothing to do with his play; he still played the second-most minutes on the team Monday night and was second on the team in plus/minus, posting a +13.

Medved said he trusts Lake and knows that his mentality and competitiveness are exactly what the team needs in the first player off the bench.

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s off the bench or whatever,” Medved said. “When Jalen plays, one thing about him is (that) I trust him so much as a coach. He’s always trying to do the right thing, he plays both ends, he’s great defensively. … He’s always mentally engaged with what we’re doing. He just plays for the team, and he’s got such a great feel of what’s going on.”

That team-first mindset is a big part of who Lake has become as a player during his time at CSU.

Lake just wants to be consistent, show up for his team and be ready when his name is called. 

“I think it just comes down to consistency (and) just trying to be an everyday guy,” Lake said. “Last year, I was fortunately starting; this year, I’m coming off the bench. I’ll be ready to play. I just want to be as consistent as possible to try to be an everyday guy trying to lead the guys on the floor (and) just buy into my role.” 

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Changing roles and accepting a different one than you’re used to can be difficult; however, accepting that change will be key for the Rams as they look to get back to the NCAA tournament in March. 

It’s not just Lake who is in a different situation. Guard Nique Clifford and forward Joel Scott both transferred to CSU and are in two very different situations than they were last year. Lake has been a leader for them as they make the transition into a new program.

“He’s been great that way,” Medved said. “He’s got such a good feel for what we want to do and (the) culture of our program. When you couple that with what we’ve brought in — some great young men who fit really well (culturally) — but a guy like Jalen is just a guy you have to watch go about his business every day, and he’s just a great guy to follow.”

That work ethic and team mentality Jalen has brought throughout his time at CSU haven’t only been noticed by Medved; Stevens has also seen Jalen’s impact. 

Stevens, who is viewed as one of the leaders of this team, has some big-time appreciation for Lake as he transitions into his new role.

“I think really with him, (it’s) the fact that he has the mental capability to thrive in that role,” Stevens said. “Not everybody is able to start — only five guys are — and Lake is definitely a starter in our program and in a lot of programs. But he’s accepted the fact that he might have to play a little bit of a different role for us to be successful this year, and even more so than that, he’s going to be able to find a lot of success and play a lot of minutes.”

The Rams are poised to be a lot better this season than they were last season. For Lake and his team, it’s about viewing the season with a day-to-day mindset.

“I believe that we want to take it one game at a time, one day at a time,” Lake said. “(We’re) just trying to get 1% better every day. Obviously, our ultimate goal — we want to be Mountain West champions, but we just want to take it one game at a time.”

If the Rams are going to beat San Diego State — the NCAA champion runners-up — they’ll need to have chemistry.

Lake said that’s exactly what the team has. That’s why he’s looking forward to competing for it all this season. 

“Just competing and just having fun,” Lake said when asked what he’s most excited about this season. “Can’t take this for granted, it’s going by fast. So just competing every day trying to get better. Just being mentally prepared for each game. Each game is a different challenge. You’ve got different types of players, we’re playing a tough schedule, so just having fun.”

Reach Damon Cook at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @dwcook2001.

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About the Contributor
Damon Cook, Sports Editor
Damon Cook is the 2023-24 sports editor for the The Collegian and has been at the paper since August 2022. He started doing coverage on volleyball and club sports before moving onto the women's basketball beat. He is in his third year and is completing his degree with a major in journalism and media communication and a minor in sports management. As The Collegian's sports editor, Cook reports on CSU sports and helps manage the sports desk and content throughout the week. After having a year to learn and improve, Cook will now get to be part of a new age under the sports desk. The desk moved on from all but one other person and will now enter into a new era. Damon started school as a construction management major looking to go in a completely different direction than journalism. After taking the year off during the COVID-19 pandemic, he quickly realized that construction wasn't for him. With sports and writing as passions, he finally decided to chase his dreams, with The Collegian helping him achieve that. He is most excited to bring the best and most in-depth sports coverage that The Collegian can provide.

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