Haynes-Jones's journey culminates in Madison Square Garden

NEW YORK, N.Y. (KWCH) -- "That would mean everything, just to know that I won at all three levels to say that I've been a winner all my life."

Wichita-native Samajae Haynes-Jones brought the 2015 Kansas State Championship home to East High School, then he led the Hutchinson Blue Dragons to back-to-back National title games, ultimately winning in 2017. Now, he has the chance to win an NIT Championship with two more wins during his senior year at Wichita State University.

But life hasn't always come easy to Haynes-Jones. He lost his mother to cancer during his senior year of high school and lived with his then-head coach Joe Jackson.

"That was hard on him and that's hard as a coach and as a mentor to see your kids hurting like that," Jackson said. "But [his mom] came to me and asked me if I'd be willing to take him in if and when that time came that something happened to her. And to me, it was a no-brainer."

Haynes-Jones said Jackson has been a mentor to him throughout the greater part of his adulthood.

"Just being there for me whenever I needed something throughout my whole life still, he's still there for me as a father-figure in my life," he said. "I look up to him in a lot of ways."

Now with this tournament, as with all of his days, he's dedicating his performance to his mother.

"Everything is for her," he said. "It's just what I do it for, it's what I wake up for, that's my motivation every day, to make her proud and I think I'm doing it."

Jackson, along with the Haynes-Jones cheering section, will be watching the culmination of his career this week from Madison Square Garden.

"You know, it's just been an incredibly fun journey seeing him develop and following him throughout this season and bouncing back from adversity not once but twice."

The second adversity he referred to was overcoming multiple injuries that sidelined Haynes-Jones through his junior season. He bounced back and started at point guard to lead a mostly freshman team to the NIT semi-finals.

"Getting this opportunity that I'm in and ending it in Times Square, that's just amazing. There's nothing else I could ask for, it's just a blessing to be here."