ATHENS, Ohio (WCMH) — Five years ago, heading into his junior year of high school, basketball was far from Jason Preston’s priority.

The Orlando native was mourning the loss of his mother while his closest relatives in Jamaica tried to figure out where he was going to live.

“She was caring. She would always put me above herself,” Preston said with a shy smiling remembering his mother. “To just know that she’s at peace and she’s in a much better place, if I were to sulk or feel bad about that, that would be awfully selfish of me.”

Jason averaged two points per game his senior year of high school and truly thought his basketball career was over after graduating. He enrolled in summer journalism classes at the University of Central Florida. But an AAU coach noticed him playing in some games and suggested Jason go to prep school.

He enrolled at Believe Sports Academy, started on the third team or, “C Team” as they called it. He made his way up to the “A Team” but ended up going back the “C Team.” He and some friends decided to make a highlight reel, and Preston posted it to Twitter leading to two college offers: Longwood and Ohio University.

“It was awesome! Certainly everything I’d ever wanted,” Preston said. “When I went on my visit, the teammates were great. It was a great culture. I was just really ecstatic. It was something I’d always dreamt of.”

During his his freshman year, Preston started 22 of the Bobcats 30 games, averaged six points a game and led the team in assist-to-turnover ratio.

Everything changed during the offseason when former Ohio basketball player Jeff Boals took over as the Bobcats’ head coach. Boals knew he had a diamond in the rough in Preston.

“The big thing for me coming in was, for him to get stronger and that was the biggest thing,” said Boals.

Preston has already grown from 6″ and 140 pounds as a high school senior, to 6’4″ and 170 pounds after his freshman season. Boals said that Preston gained 18 more pounds that summer before his sophomore year.

Then came the basketball adjustments.

“The first couple games, he was a pass-first point guard,” Boals said remembering the Bobcats game against Iona early in the 2019-2020 season. “I’m like ‘JP, you get the ball in the paint every single time, you have to score the ball!’ That’s not the way he’s wired. He ended up with like 28 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists that game, and I think that gave him a lot of confidence for the rest of the year . . . I think he’s evolved into looking to score more.”

The entire nation saw that evolution first-hand on Friday, Nov. 27 when the Bobcats almost upset No. 8 Illinois 77-75 — a game featuring Preston who dropped a career-high 31 points.

Now, all eyes are on Preston as the college basketball community is enraptured with his game and story, and he feels someone else watching as well.

“I hope she’s really proud,” Preston said of his mother. “She was definitely in my thoughts. I talked to her a lot throughout the game.”

“It’s amazing what confidence and belief does for you,” Boals said. “He’s done a lot of this the last three or four years on his own. I think that just tells you he’s a survivor. He’s been through a lot of adversity, and I think that’s really evolved into who he is today.”