By Jeff Holt
Published January 10, 2022 in The Burg
You don't hear too much talk around town about Knox College basketball, especially during this time of covid. Local fans are now allowed to go to home events at Knox as long as they show proof of full vaccination and bring a surgical mask.
But it is worth noting the name of Jordan Rayner, a senior point-guard from the St. Louis area. He has led the team in scoring with 17 points a game, which included a 30-point performance his sophomore season at Grinnell College.
And recently, Rayner stepped up in crunch time to lead Knox to a 79-72 win over Monmouth College. Rayner's pull-up jumper from the free-throw line gave the Prairie Fire a 37-34 lead at halftime. Then, he calmly sank 7-of-8 free throws in the final minutes of the game.
Shortly after the victory, Rayner said, "That win means a lot to me and the team. It feels good to win, knowing the tradition of this rivalry and how much it means not only to us, but the alumni and everyone involved with both schools. This win means a lot too because we’ve been going through a tough stretch as a team with some really close losses and having guys out with Covid so it's good to see our team back at full strength."
The 6-foot-2 Raynor is the clear-cut leader of this Knox team, too.
"He's our heart-and-soul, a great leader," said Prairie Fire coach Ben Davis. "He's worked so hard to get to this point. He's the best leader I've ever coached. At practice, he makes sure everything is running right. He's a guy that will stop practice - just like a coach would and he's very involved in our recruiting."
Beyond the stats, it's the type of person that Rayner is that gives him that edge.
Going into his junior year of high school, Rayner started a non-profit program called "Ball4All." It’s main goal is to aid and support disabled and underprivileged youth athletes in their journey to adulthood.
"We have partnered with and raised money for organizations such as the Special Olympics, STL Rolling Rams Wheelchair Basketball Team, and Boys Hope Girls Hope STL," he said. "The main event that we have hosted is the Ball4All All Star Game (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xhTIboGt1x8&t=152s) where the best basketball players in the St. Louis area came out to play a game and raise money and awareness for the charities we partnered with."
Continued Rayner, "My overall goal with Ball4All is to start a community center in which youth in the area can come to work on and study their goals. This can be sports, law, medicine, art, and so on. The goal is to create a safe space for kids to be themselves."
This is the type of basketball player that former Knox coach Kevin Walden recruited close to four years ago.
"Coach Walden is a great guy," Rayner said. "Although we haven’t spoken recently, I will always be appreciative and grateful to him for believing in me and giving me the opportunity to play at Knox. He was very active when he was recruiting me and even came down to St. Louis to one of my charity events. It means a lot to me that he showed that kind of support for me."
Rayner graduated from Chaminade College Preparatory School and went to school with Jayson Tatum of the Boston Celtics.
"Being in the program during the same time as Jayson Tatum was a really cool experience," Rayner said. "Anywhere the team played, it was going to be a packed house no matter what. Beyond that, I think his presence did a lot for the younger guys like myself and other guys in my class. Everyone knew he was going to go pro and to see him coming in and putting in even more work than he did the day before showed us what it really took to be great. We saw the work he was putting in everyday first hand and it just always inspired us to want to get better. He definitely set the standard for us just like guys that went to Chaminade before him did such as David Lee and Bradley Beal."
Rayner, meanwhile, did receive some interest from other colleges (besides Knox) to continue his basketball career ... Macalester College (MN), Illinois College, Johns Hopkins (MD), Sarah Lawrence College (NY), Dean College (MA), Suffolk University (MA), Missouri Baptist University, University of Rochester (NY).
Offensively, Rayner has the quickness to take a defender off the dribble or he can hit the outside shot. He's not one to showboat.
However, there was one fancy move he made with the ball that he'll always remember. It was his first game against Monmouth College on his homecourt in Galesburg. The gym was packed.
"The energy was great," he said. "I remember one play where I drove towards the middle of the floor and right around the free-throw line, I made a hard crossover move behind my back. My defender fell down and I hit the shot. After that I just remember our fans going crazy and turning to one of my friends in the crowd and seeing him hyping me up. We ended up losing the game by 8 points but it was an experience I will never forget."
Currently, there is one player on the Knox basketball team (Isaiah Lockett) who has been a great inspiration for Rayner.
"We have been friends since the day we moved in our freshman year and have only gotten closer since," said Rayner. "He’s a guy I would say I look up to because when we first came in, he wasn’t playing any minutes at all and many can make an argument that he should’ve been playing at times. Through all the adversity, he just kept working and decided to stay at Knox and now he is one of our starters and a major contributor to the team. His hard work through that time is something that I will always respect because I know that it is not something that is easy to deal with."
Rayner said that he's been able to meet some great people during his time at Knox College. He's been able to turn in a 3.0 grade-point-average and he's looking into pre law after Knox.
"It has always been something I was interested in," Rayner said. "Generally, I think it’s important, especially as an African American male, to know the law. I want to go into sports and entertainment law and hopefully make a career as an agent. Right now, the future for me looks like preparing for the LSAT and getting ready to make a decision as to where I want to end up for law school after my time at Knox."
So, the future is bright for Rayner after he graduates from Knox College.
And if you haven't been to the St. Louis area too much, he does have some advice.
"I would say to definitely try as many food spots as you possibly can and to catch a high school basketball game," said Rayner. "St. Louis has a great variety of food and it all tastes great. You can find a good restaurant that fits your taste in almost any part of the city. I would say that this is my favorite part about living in the St. Louis area."
Rayner went on to say, "As far as basketball goes, St. Louis has some of the best high school basketball in the country in my opinion. There are a lot of good players that came out of St. Louis such as Bradley Beal, David Lee, Ben McLemore, Jayson Tatum, Larry Hughes, Darius Miles, Patrick McCaw, and many more. The level of play is elite in my opinion and I love getting a chance to catch games when I’m home."