The farthest Jay Morehead has ever been away from his Valley Springs home was when he visited Utah. The Calaveras High School freshman has never left the United States, or even been on the other side of the Rocky Mountains.
That’s all about to change.
The first time that Morehead, 14, will need to present a passport will be as a member of Team USA’s 2021 16U boys’ basketball squad as part of the United World Games, which will take place in June in Austria.
“It’s an amazing feeling and very humbling,” Morehead said about being selected to be a member of the team. “This is a great opportunity.”
Working for the opportunity
Much of Morehead’s young life has revolved around basketball. Even though he has yet to play one second of high school hoops, Morehead is no stranger to the court.
He played while attending Jenny Lind Elementary School and plays travel basketball. His current travel team, Big Time Elite, is coached by Jimmy Dockett, who wasn’t surprised to learn that Morehead had been selected to play in the United World Games.
“He works hard and he’s willing to keep getting better every day,” Dockett said. “He’s a good defender and also good at passing the ball. I’m very excited for him. I started the traveling team as a way to get more athletes around this area to get accepted to do things like this around the world.”
Morehead never thought that he would be sharing the court with not only some of the best players in the country, but the world. It wasn’t until he went to a showcase in Roseville that the seed was planted in his head that he’d be able to compete at such a high level.
At the behest of one of the coaches at the showcase, Morehead created a highlight film to send to those in charge of selecting the team. He also included his report card and a letter of recommendation from Dockett, both of which were required.
After everything was sent away, all Morehead could do was sit back and wait. Once his video, grades and letter of recommendation were reviewed, Morehead finally got the response he was hoping for.
“I was very surprised when I got the letter in the mail,” Morehead said about finding out he made the team. “I’m from such a small area and I never thought I’d get such a great opportunity to play overseas for Team USA.”
Morehead’s excitement was only matched by that of his mother, Stacy Bradford.
“I am beyond excited,” Bradford said. “I’m proud that his hard work and character is being recognized. The fact that he has this opportunity to show the world who he is, is amazing.”
As seriously as Morehead takes himself on the court is nothing to how serious he takes himself in the classroom. In his first high school semester, he has a perfect 4.0 GPA. Regardless of where his basketball life takes him, Bradford will always be more proud of his grades, rather than his jumper.
“That is one of the biggest things to us, because we have always said that as long as he keeps straight A’s, we’ll pay for whatever travel thing he does,” Bradford said. “His school always comes first, but nobody is harder on him than he is. You should see him when he gets a B.”
Morehead is confident with his talents on the court, but he also knows he’s going to be playing against a higher level of competition, unlike anything he’s seen before. Morehead hopes that he doesn’t psych himself out too much before taking the floor.
“I’m very nervous to go and play against all of that great talent,” Morehead said. “The thoughts are always there that I might not be good enough, but I believe that I can be good enough to play.”
Dreams at a price
Morehead has an opportunity of a lifetime in front of him, but that won’t come without a price. To be a member of the team and play at the United World Games in Austria, Morehead needs to come up with $9,000. Not only will Morehead get to play basketball in Austria, but he will also have the opportunity to visit Germany and Italy during the trip.
When Bradford learned of the cost, her first thought was an extreme one.
“How do I sell a kidney,” she said. “That was my first thought. Then it went to fundraising our butts off, because I am not going to allow him to not have this opportunity.”
Bradford and her husband already put down $1,000 to hold Morehead’s spot on the team. Another $3,500 is due by Feb. 1, while $2,250 must be paid by March 1. The remainder is scheduled to be paid by April 1.
The thought of not being able to financially support her son isn’t one that Bradford enjoys having.
“My husband and I had a conversation about that the first night,” Bradford said. “We sat in our garage and talked about it. We are scared about letting him down. But he’s a really good kid and I know that if we aren’t able to do it, that he would definitely understand.”
To help with the funding, a bake sale will take place at 9 a.m., Jan. 9 at Mar-Val Food Stores in Valley Springs. And later in January there will be a joint spaghetti dinner for Morehead and Big Time Elite.
Morehead knows there’s a chance that he might not get to play if the funds are unavailable, but that’s not the only reason why his overseas trip may not happen. With the future of COVID-19 still uncertain, travel restrictions, social distancing and other COVID issues could result in the United World Games getting canceled for the second year in a row.
“I don’t want to get my hopes up about going and having this great opportunity and then not be able to go,” Morehead said about COVID19 playing spoiler, much like it already has for his first year of high school basketball.
Morehead hopes that he will not only get to play a truncated high school basketball season this year but will also get to play overseas in an event of a lifetime.
“I’m sad thinking that one of these years might get taken away,” Morehead said. “I was really looking forward to my four years of high school basketball and those new experiences.”
To contribute to Morehead, visit GoGetFunding/GetJayToTheUnitedWorldGame.