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Jalen Gorham always dreamed of playing NCAA Division I basketball — until he found the coach and the program that changed his mind. 

That coach and that program, Eric Eaton of NCAA Division II St. Michael’s College in Vermont, convinced the 6-foot-7 forward that St. Michael's was the perfect fit for him.

“The coach got me,” said Gorham, who starred at York Country Day. “The way he recruited me and the way he made me feel, like he wanted me so bad and the way he talked about the team, it really appealed to me and my family.” 

The perfect coach: Eaton enters his first season running the program, but has spent years coaching at the NCAA Division I level with Quinnipiac University and the University at Albany, among others. Gorham was the first recruit Eaton landed for the program and his pitch to Gorham was key in his decision to decline the postgraduate year he had planned in pursuit of an NCAA Division I offer.

“Just the way he recruited me, he wanted everything I wanted,” Gorham said. “He wants to win, he wants me to get better, he wants me to get stronger, he wants me to put in the work.”

When he got the offer from Eaton, Gorham, a 2018 Class 1-A all-state member, could barely contain his excitement. 

“Top three most excited moments of my life,” Gorham said. “I couldn’t stop smiling. It was crazy.”

A new outlook: Committing to an NCAA Division II school is something Gorham originally didn’t have interest in, but his connection with Eaton, combined with the school’s campus and location, were strong enough to change his mind. 

He said it wasn’t a really difficult process to decide that going to an NCAA Division II school was the right fit for him, and that after doing his homework on the program and the players at that level, he knew what his decision was. 

“(NCAA) Division II is not easy,” Gorham said. “Some Division II players could be on Division I squads, so it wasn’t hard to change my outlook I just had to do my research and find out more about it.” 

The dream offer: Those new-found feelings would be put to an immediate test when the NCAA Division I offer he always dreamed of became a reality. 

A few weeks after he attended a prospect camp in August, Gorham received an offer from NCAA Division I Howard University after the coaches found out he had verbally committed to St. Michael’s. 

“When he told me they offered me, once again I couldn’t stop smiling, I was running around the house,” Gorham said. “I was super excited. Just those few days in general were crazy.” 

Howard’s coaches wanted Gorham to redshirt his first season and join the team in December after attending a postgraduate school. After considering both options with his family and coaches, Gorham made the choice to go with Eaton and St. Michael’s, which is coming off a 7-19 season in 2018-19. 

The right fit: Despite not ending up where he always thought he would, Gorham is happy with the decision he made and the journey he took to get there. 

He loves how intense the preseason workouts are and can’t wait for the season to get started. No matter what division it’s at, Gorham is proud of the work he put in to get where he is and believes the best is yet to come. 

“This is pretty much everything I worked toward and I accomplished it,” Gorham said. “I got my Division I offer (and) I am going to school for free, so it’s a major relief. Now it’s just time to keep working.”

Reach Rob Rose at rrose@yorkdispatch.com.

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