"He was rough. He jumped off of everything," said his father, Jermaine. "He always had a lot of energy, and as the years went by, it was always, 'How are we going to calm him down?' "
Mom and dad only partly succeeded. OSU is the latest beneficiary of what could not be tamed.
"It starts with him," senior Sam Thompson said yesterday of the freshman Tate. "He's done a good job of really setting the tone for us, and we've kind of run with it."
Tate was on the floor supplying a little bit of everything for the Buckeyes when they rallied in the second half at Louisville on Dec. 2, pulled away from Colgate in the second half last Saturday, and put away High Point early in the second half on Wednesday.
Tate "played like an animal," assistant coach Dave Dickerson said after the loss at Louisville, in which the Buckeyes came back from 19 points down to within three with 1:12 to play.
Tate's 39 rebounds in eight games are tied for the team lead, and his nine steals rank third. He is receiving the most minutes of any player off the bench.
Coach Thad Matta was well aware of what Tate brought to the floor; it's why he recruited the undersized 6-foot-4 Tate from Pickerington Central in Pickerington, Ohio. Matta hoped that, over time, it would prove contagious to Tate's teammates. Matta said yesterday he's seeing it spread.
"In a competitive situation in practice, he's got a knack for really getting guys going, as well as getting under the skin of the other team," Matta said.
"I think he's kind of brought some guys along with him at certain times of the game, [and they] have shown a little more fire, a little more passion because of it."
Tate's effect on his team has been likened to that of David Lighty, who in five seasons and part of a sixth with the Buckeyes won 129 games, a record for an Ohio State player. Lighty also reached a state championship game in high school; Tate won one.
"Dave and Jae'Sean are both about the same size -- big, strong, tough guys, really all about the team and all about winning. They'll do anything it takes to win basketball games," Thompson said. "Whenever you have a guy like that on your team, you're going to get a lot of wins."
Jermaine Tate, who played at Ohio State from 1995 to '97, said that when Jae'Sean started playing basketball in third grade, he could not handle or shoot the ball very well. "But I always told him to just play hard and, as he got older, we'd figure out the rest.
"He was always a very good football player, so he used that [mentality] to his advantage. Most basketball players don't want to see guys in their face all the time. They always have to worry about them. So even if you're not going to be a guy who scores points, if you're relentless and play hard, that's the worst guy for [an opponent] to see."
Lighty also excelled as a football player in high school before giving up the sport.
"I've said from watching Jae'Sean at an early age, when we first started recruiting him, that I hope he becomes David Lighty," Matta said. "I think that's a tremendous compliment."