Gainey’s return leading to Seminoles’ court success

Jaylan Gainey is back to enjoying basketball after a right knee injury kept him out of the game for more than a year.
Photo courtesy FSU athletics

By Chuck Walsh
Seminoles.com

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – It all seems so natural for Florida State’s Jaylan Gainey.

He’s back on the court with his teammates. He’s competing at the highest level of college basketball. He’s helping the Seminoles win games.

And most important, he’s healthy.

Gainey was away from the game is so very passionate about for more than a year. He used the time to endure rehabilitation that helped him get back into the Seminoles’ rotation in late November.

He is beginning to feel like himself again and having fun. 

He’s practicing every day. He’s lifting weights. He’s running the court with his teammates. He’s dunking as ferociously as he has done throughout his career.

“I’m just happy that I’m able to play the game of basketball in its entirety,” said Gainey, who was with the Seminoles last Saturday when they faced Louisville at the KFC YUM! Center. “I can’t really choose something specifically, but this is my last year and I want to enjoy it all without taking any part for granted.”

Gainey didn’t exactly have a great night, playing mostly defense during the 9:24 that he was on the floor at Louisville. He was 1 of 2 from the free-throw line, with three rebounds.

After injuring his right knee in a practice session inside the Florida State Basketball Training Center in September 2022, Gainey spent the next 14 months working daily to get healthy and to return to the court with his teammates. When he was injured, Gainey had yet to play a regular season game at Florida State after transferring from Brown University in the spring of 2022 as one of the top transfer student-athletes in college basketball.

Gainey had displayed his incredible athletic ability during the Seminoles’ three-game summer exhibition tour on Canada, soon after he arrived on campus. He averaged 8.7 points, 7.0 rebounds, and 1.7 blocked shots as Florida State head coach Leonard Hamilton watched his next great big-man in action.

Gainey was injured on Sept.  23, underwent surgery soon after, and was lost for the entire 2022-23 season.

Hamilton, though, saw the determination by the 6-foot-10 native of Greensboro, N.C., to get himself back on the court as quickly as possible.

“He’s an Unconquered Seminole pure and through,” said Hamilton. “Even when he was limping around on one leg, his determination and his focus was, ‘I just want to help my team.’ And now he’s gotten healthier, and he’s running better.

“Mentally, he’s just a warrior. He brings a sacrifice and he’s bringing something to our team that we’ve been missing.”

Gainey returned to the court against Georgia last November. At that point, it had been 635 days since he last played in a college game.

While Gainey played just over three minutes in the ACC/SEC Challenge game against the Bulldogs, he knew that there were much brighter basketball days ahead for him in the very near future.

The time he spent to get back on the court was a tremendous period of growth and introspection for the graduate student.

“I learned that you can’t take anything for granted because it can be gone just like that,” said Gainey. “It never crossed my mind that I’d have a season ending injury.”

As he continued to work on getting himself physically ready for the 2023-24 season, getting his education continued to be a priority for Gainey and his family.

Gainey arrived at FSU as a graduate student who had already earned his Bachelor’s Degree in Business Economics from Brown. While rehabilitating his knee, he earned his first Master’s Degree in Athletic Coaching from Florida State last August. Gainey will earn his second Master’s Degree in Sport Management from FSU this summer.

“Three degrees in three years is truly a blessing,” said Gainey. “This journey has truly been a testament to the power of perseverance and believing in yourself. What most people would view as a negative situation, for me, has turned into a blessing in disguise.

“I feel nothing but gratitude for everything I’ve learned and for all the opportunities I have been given. Opportunity comes in many different forms so when it presents itself you take it.”

Gainey’s contributions to Florida State’s quickly improving season have been noticeable with each passing game. His minutes have increased (he’s played in double figure minutes in 11 of the 15 games his played in), his scoring has increased (he scored 11 very important points in Florida State’s ACC win against Virginia Tech), and his defense (he had two blocked shots in the Seminoles’ victory at Notre Dame) has returned to what Hamilton and his staff expected when Gainey signed with the Seminoles two years ago.

“My goals are to keep doing all that I’m doing to benefit the team so we keep winning,” said Gainey. “We want to win the ACC Championship, go on a run, and win the National Championship.”

Gainey’s selflessness and dedication to the Seminole program have served as an inspiration to his Florida State teammates.

 “Jaylan has been a huge inspiration to the team,” said fourth-year Seminole Isaac Spainhour. “His work ethic and dedication is amazing to see and it shows how he plays on the court. Having him back has been huge to the success of our team.”

While he’s admittedly not back to 100 percent healthy, Gainey’s improved play has been integral in Florida State’s success entering the month of February. The Seminoles have won eight of their last 11 games overall since a Dec. 19 victory over North Florida and are in the top four in the ACC standings with six wins in nine conference games.

“For me, my improvement has come by just being better mentally,” said Gainey. “Being able to adapt and find ways to push through has been important for me. My knee is not 100 percent, but I’m not letting it stop me.”

With every arena he walks into, and every dunk he throws down, it’s Gainey being himself and doing what he does best on the basketball court.


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