Being the leading scorer for a collegiate basketball team is already a difficult task for anyone to accomplish, regardless of what school they play for. Add in a lengthy school schedule, long practices that do not just end when the coach dismisses everyone, and the pressure of being one of the most recognizable faces of collegiate basketball at an institution and someone's work will be cut out for them.
Sounds almost insurmountable, right? Not to Marajiah Bacon. Not at all.
Marajiah Bacon, Ray for short, has upheld a standard of consistency, excellence, and the desire to be the best player, teammate, classmate and overall best human being that she could be. Currently in her junior year as the Cougars' starting point guard, rising to the occasion is minuscule, compared to what she has done in her three years as a member of the team.
"Truthfully, I have just made an impact by just helping my teammates out whenever they need it, or just doing what I have to do in order to get us a win," Bacon said. "I just basically focus on defensive stuff and offensive stuff to get better."
This consistency on the offensive end for Bacon has always been her most gratuitous trait. As a freshman, Bacon averaged more than 24 points per game (ppg) and finished the season with a total of 643 points. Her coaching staff, led by Head Coach Mandy King, have helped to pave the way for Ray to not only become instant offense for the Cougars, but become someone who is willing to lead by example for a young team.
"For my freshman year, it was Coach King and Assistant Coach [Brian] Erickson. Being with them for the three years that I have been here, our trust has grown with each other. This will be the second year that I will be with Coach Dana [Peterson], so we are still building that trust while working together to understand one another," Bacon commented.
Bacon has been the recipient of many awards, records and accolades that have commended her exceptional play on the floor, such as a selection to the all New Jersey Athletic Confererence (NJAC) first team, multiple NJAC player of the week honors, and a spot on the D3hoops.com Atlantic Regional Second Team received last season. However, Bacon does not want the awards to go to her head and make her complacent because she does not want anything to get in the way of the team's goal.
"It is nice to get all of the awards, but after a while, I start to think that is not what I am focused on. I just think that, to be able to get the accolades, I have to do what I have to do, and be the best player that I can be. This year, I am trying to focus on being the best leader and player as well.
Basketball started early for the former national leader in scoring, as she began putting up shots and handling the ball at the age of six.
"The love that I have for the game of basketball, at that age, made me never want to put a basketball down," Bacon said.
A native of Neptune Township, Ray Bacon flourished in playing for the Scarlet Fliers of Neptune High School, averaging 19 points a game her senior season while accumulating a point total of more than 1,200 points through her time on the team.
"I played a little bit of Junior Varsity (JV) ball and played varsity as a sixth man off of the bench. I got the starting point guard job my sophomore season, and ever since then, I have just loved the game more and more. In high school and college, I was in love with the intensity that the game brought," Bacon mentioned.
Ray Bacon's love for the game would propel her to new heights at Kean University, as she racked up her 1,000th point as a Cougar on the evening of January 21, 2017.
"For me, it was a fun experience. I scored my 1,000th point in high school too, so when I scored it here, it was pretty exciting for me. Nobody would ever think that a sophomore would score 1,000 points. It was very exciting for me, and I was glad to do it with my teammates here," Bacon claimed.
Sitting at 6-3 on the year, with a 3-2 record in the NJAC, Bacon's consistency does not only apply to her ability to get the ball into the bucket. Raising the defensive tempo is Bacon's main priority if championship nets are going to be cut down in the spring semester.
"Ray is a once in a lifetime student athlete. She has always been a high character kid and an elite talent with a huge heart, but this season has been her most impressive by a mile," said King, Marajiah's confidant and good friend. "She has grown tremendously not only as a player but as a leader and a mentor. She is tougher. She is impacting the game with her defense and rebounding. She is resilient and she works at staying focused on what she can control and doing whatever the game and her teammates need her to do."
Bacon believes that her team's current record is good, but not good enough to where she wants it to be. "I think, offensively, to be able to score that amount of points, this year, I am not afraid to not intently focus on scoring, but get my teammates involved," Bacon said. "To finish out the season, I think we just have to keep our intensity up, no matter what. We cannot give up if we are down one point or two points."
The same can be said for Bacon's effort on the defensive end of the floor. The junior wants to be a vocal leader on the floor in trying to get the ball back from opponents. "I feel like I have been playing defense more than I have been here, since my freshman year. What I have been doing this year is trying to get more steals and shoot the passing lanes, so what I have to do for the rest of the year is continue to get everybody else on the run," Bacon commented.
While being a leader on the court, King has placed her trust and best wishes of success in Bacon as she believes the junior has a purpose in the world that is bigger than basketball. As one of the only four juniors on the team, Bacon's coach has always believed in her ever since her coveted junior scoring threat stepped foot on the Kean court.
"I think Coach King has placed her trust in me because we have built a different relationship than everybody else has. We discuss a lot of different things that have little to do with basketball. From being here for three years, the juniors are actually the players that have been here the longest, so to be one of her future four year players, something that she has not had since Jaquetta Owens, it will be a good feeling."
Furthermore, Bacon's criminal justice major has made her a better student, leader and student athlete all at the same time. "My major has helped me become a better leader because, in order for someone to be a better player, you have to be able to succeed in the classroom. I am not here just for the sport, I am here for my education, something that my mother always told me. If I am doing good in class, then I am doing good on the court because I represent Kean Basketball. I cannot be bad in the classroom and good on the court, it just does not work," Bacon said.
A long second half of the season awaits the Cougars, but if anyone is ready for the challenge ahead, it is Marajiah. Until then, being the go-to scorer, reliable defender and influential point guard is just another day at the office for Marajiah Bacon.