HIGH POINT — Jayce Little looks nothing like a pool shark.
At 14, he stands about pool cue-high and can’t possibly weigh more than a few dozen billiard balls. With his soft mop of curly brown hair, his unassuming smile and his quiet, reserved demeanor, he’s not the least bit intimidating.
And to be honest, unlike traditional pool sharks, he’s not looking to hustle you out of your money.
But the kid will take your pride in a heartbeat.
On the surface, Jayce (the name rhymes with “ace,” which might not be a coincidence) may be just another eighth-grader at Wesleyan Christian Academy, but he’s moonlighting as one of the best junior 9-ball players in the country.
Just about every weekend, you can find the High Point teenager competing in a billiards tournament somewhere, whether it’s a local tourney here in the Triad, a regional competition elsewhere on the East Coast, or the Junior National Pool Championships in Las Vegas, where he won a silver medal in the boys’ 14-and-under division.
Later this month, he’ll be one of 22 junior players representing Team USA at the World Junior 9-Ball Championships in San Juan, Puerto Rico, an event sanctioned by the World Pool-Billiard Association.
“All the top juniors from all over the world come and compete against each other,” Jayce says. “I’m really excited to be able to play against other people from all over the world, because I’m usually just playing people from the United States.”
Jayce also finds the thought of an international competition somewhat daunting, particularly considering he’s the second-youngest player on Team USA, but he’s confident in his game.
“I think I’m playing good right now,” he says, “but a lot of the juniors are 16 or 17, so they have more experience than me, plus they’re probably a little better. This is also my first time going to worlds, so I’m a little nervous, but I think I’ll do pretty good.”
Unofficially, Jayce’s interest in pool goes back to when he was 4 and his parents, Jeff and Angel Little, got him a tabletop pool game just for fun. Officially, though, he started playing when he was 8, following in the footsteps of other family members who had a knack for billiards, including his father and his late grandfather, Don Lilly.
“That was about the time he started learning how to use a phone,” Angel Little recalls. “He started pulling up professional billiards videos on YouTube, and it just took off from there.”
The following year, he participated in his first competition, a tournament in Philadelphia, where — despite being only 9 — he won third place in the 13-and-under division.
“We saw the potential,” Angel says, “and he’s been going strong ever since.”
Eventually, the family converted the garage into a pool hall, and Jayce says he spends at least a couple of hours a day there practicing.
“You’ve really got to practice hard and put as much time as you can into the game, because if you don’t practice, then you’ll just lose everything you’ve learned,” says Jayce, whose goal is to become a professional billiards player.
He’s well on his way. Even at 14, he brings home some impressive cash purses from the tournaments he plays in, though his parents require him to put 50% of his winnings toward his travel expenses.
He even has a couple of official sponsors for his gear — Predator cues and Clutch Shot billiards apparel.
“Jayce has done really well for his age,” his mother says. “He’s worked with a few pro players — guys in their early 20s who he’s played with at some of the tournaments — and he was told by a couple of them that they could see him becoming the best player in the world. They said he’s that good.”