Basketball guard Jaylen Bland, a new member of the UC Riverside men’s basketball team, has excelled in his first season with the Highlanders. Bland currently leads the Big West in three-pointers made, with 44. He also is first in the team in steals with 20 and first in minutes played with 33.6 minutes per game. He’s second only to Taylor Johns in points per game and in field goals made.

While doing well in conference is a tough task, transferring from a community college can be just as difficult. Adjusting to tough classes, making friends and living away from home are just a few of the struggles transfer students face. Bland, who transferred from College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, Calif., not only survived his first quarter at UCR, but is doing exceedingly well in Division I basketball.

“The competition level is much higher,” Bland said. “The practices are much more intense … I think this D-I level, a lot of junior colleges can’t compare to.”

When asked about UCR’s 7-7 record in non-conference play, Bland recalled the mountain training, including hikes up to the “C,” that the team went through during summer practices.

“It was way bigger than a hill, it was actually like a mountain,” he said. “They made us go up there a few times and it was timed, so we had to sprint up there. It was one of the hardest workouts in my life.”

In terms of teammates that push him to get better, Steven Jones is atop the list.

“Steven Jones is always intense,” Bland said. “He’s always turnt up and yelling and being active in practice.”

The pair set the tone during practice, which relies on high levels of energy throughout. It’s the perfection of practice that results in wins during games, and the Highlanders seem to have found their rhythm, splitting their first pair of conference games against Cal State Fullerton and UC Irvine.

As a team, the hard work seemed to pay off as their record is the best since the 2008-2009 team, which marked the Highlanders’ first winning Division I season. With the Big West Championship looming in the future, Bland feels confident in his team’s ability.

“The conference is up for grabs in my eyes,” Bland said. “Any team that’s locked can take it.”

Once Bland graduates from UCR, he hopes to play in the NBA. If all else fails, he plans to play overseas doing what he enjoys. At least for a couple more years, Bland will be doing what he loves on the campus of UCR.