Maybe it would have been easier if a big-time scorer from a couple hours away had started his college basketball career at Jacksonville University, but Jace Hogan doesn’t think of it that way.
One of the many lessons he learned on the path from Melbourne to the United States Naval Academy to a spot in the Dolphins’ starting lineup is that easy is rarely the answer. Very rarely.
From Plebe Summer in Annapolis to a redshirt season in Jacksonville that felt like it lasted a decade, the 6-foot-6 forward with a smooth lefty jump shot has gotten used to life’s different challenges and blazing his own path through them.
That’s how his story really begins.
“Sometimes it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense how I ended up here,” Hogan said. “But I’m thankful I did.”
Arriving at JU
Hogan’s path to becoming the Dolphins’ leading scorer so far this season began in November 2015.
In what is now a bit of an ironic twist, he came off the bench to score 17 points in 26 minutes and lead Navy to a 71-65 victory over JU during the Spartan Showcase in Greensboro, N.C.
Hogan, then a sophomore, was a valuable member of that Midshipmen team, averaging 9.7 points and 4.8 rebounds in 23 minutes per game.
But away from the court, he wrestled with a gnawing feeling that a career in the military was not for him.
“It’s honestly such a tough decision,” he said. “It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. But for me, I didn’t think it was fair to be an officer and lead people and be in charge of people if I wasn’t all in. That’s where I was at.”
And time was becoming an important factor.
Students at the Naval Academy are allowed to leave before the start of their third year. After that, they are committed to five years of service beyond graduation.
For someone with dreams of coaching (if playing overseas doesn’t work out), Hogan weighed the commitment for months before he finally decided his life was headed in another direction.
“It was all laid out for me, and people said I was throwing it away,” Hogan said. “But for me, it didn’t feel like I was throwing it away. It felt like I was going down another path.”
One that was headed for JU.
Hogan said it was his high school coach from Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy — where he set the single-season scoring record as a senior while averaging 25.3 points and 12.2 rebounds — who was the first to reach out to the Dolphins’ coaching staff.
Hogan eventually had several conversations with them, too. By August, he was on campus.
Only a few years earlier, JU hadn’t even been a consideration. Now, it was a new beginning.
“Out of high school, it was a different staff [at JU],” Hogan said. “They missed me or had never heard of me or whatever. I ended up popping up on the transfer list, and we contacted each other and had some back-and-forth.”
Said JU coach Tony Jasick: “He’s obviously had an interesting path to get here, but we’re glad he is here.”
‘I was devastated’
As he crashed to the ground, Hogan couldn’t help but fear the worst.
After finishing a redshirt season, Hogan was on the court for JU’s first official practice Sept. 30 and was trying to grab an offensive rebound when he got another reminder that nothing comes easy.
Teammate Radwan Bakkali — the Dolphins’ towering, 6-foot-10, 250-pound center — was also battling on the boards when he fell into Hogan’s left knee.
Hogan suffered a hairline fracture and a bone bruise, a setback that caused him to miss the remainder of the preseason. He was also out for the season opener at UAB and for a trip to play at Georgetown.
“That was always my biggest fear: redshirt year, get back into it and then something happens,” Hogan said. “Then, first practice, something does happen. I was devastated.”
Said Bakkali: “He’s a big part of our team, and we knew he was very important to us. Having him sit out was not ideal for anybody.”
Hogan made his debut with the Dolphins against North Carolina A&T on Nov. 18.
Quickly, he showed the talent that could make him an all-conference player in the Atlantic Sun; he scored 24 points (on 9 of 18 shooting), grabbed 11 rebounds and added two assists and two blocks in 37 minutes.
“It’s still bothering me, to this day,” Hogan said of the knee injury.
But it has hardly slowed him down.
Beginning to shine
Knee pain aside, it’s difficult to imagine Hogan’s JU career getting off to a better start.
The redshirt junior is averaging a team-best 17.6 points per game (on 49.3 percent shooting) and became the first Dolphins player this century to score in double-figures in each of his first eight games.
In addition to a quality mid-range game, Hogan has also been a consistent presence inside and is second on the team in rebounding (7.3 per game). On Saturday, he notched his fifth double-double of the season in a loss at South Carolina State.
“We’re fortunate in that we’re able to reap some of the benefit of all [Navy] coach [Ed] DeChellis and their staff’s work,” Jasick said. “[Hogan] does come with a level of maturity, a level of discipline that maybe guys who haven’t been through that experience wouldn’t have.”
Said Hogan: “I feel like I get to play my game, being aggressive and trying to help the team win. We’ve come up short in a lot of close games, so it’s been a little frustrating. But I feel like we’ll figure it out.”
No doubt, this Dolphins team is young — and inexperienced. Hogan is one of seven players, including five freshmen, who had not played a minute at JU prior to this season. And they’ve taken their lumps early.
JU will bring a 4-8 record into Wednesday’s home game against Northern Arizona, and the schedule doesn’t lighten anytime soon. The Dolphins will make trips to play at Power-5 schools North Carolina State and Michigan before the start of A-Sun play in January.
That could make for a long season, but Hogan isn’t giving up on it.
He sees this as another opportunity to create his own path — even if it’s one that won’t be easy.
“A lot of people made it seem that if I left [Navy] then I wouldn’t be successful, or that was as successful as I would ever be,” Hogan said. “I took it as a chip on my shoulder. I’m leaving, but I’m motivated.
“That’s still how I feel.”
Phillip Heilman: (904) 359-4063