Jamar Leaves Quite an Imprint at UM & Griz Basketball Program (Photo Gallery)

By DAVE GUFFEY for GoGriz.com | Photos by AUSTIN SMITH

The University of Montana’s Kareem Jamar will run out on to Dahlberg Arena’s court soon for his final introduction in front of Griz Nation. The young man who came to The University of Montana as a 17-year-old high school star will be leaving a lot more than his legacy as a player.

His rise to stardom since coming to UM from Venice, Calif., in the fall of 2010  and eventually becoming one of the best Mid-Major players in the nation was probably a lot easier than the many personal challenges he has faced the past four years.  But, thanks to hard work and love of the game and of his school, he has persevered in a big way.

Tomorrow night (Monday, March 3), will be the last chance most of Griz Nation will have a chance to see Jamar play in person, as the Griz host their intra-state rival, the Montana State Bobcats, in Montana’s final regular-season home game of the season.

The road he traveled to become one of the most prolific basketball players in school history was a difficult one.

Kareem JamarJamar, an anthropology major, verbally committed to play at Montana following his junior season when his talent-laden prep powerhouse team at Westchester High School won the California state championship, defeating McClymond’s High School from Oakland, whose star point guard was former Griz standout Will Cherry. Jamar’s senior squad also won the state title, and that’s when several colleges came knocking on his door and asking him to de-commit and attend their school.

“I can tell you what sewed it up (for staying with the Griz),” Jamar said. “I had a really good game in front of 250 coaches in the summer (prior to his senior year) in Vegas, and was on the Compton Magic travel team, one of the best travel teams ever. I was on a team with three of ESPN’s top 150 players who had not committed. So I am playing really well, probably had 25 points, but I am not getting calls or anything. In our last game and I think I had 28 (points), and only two schools called. That was the University of Montana, and then St. Mary’s, who asked me, ‘can you score like that every night?’

“I had never really heard of Montana, to tell you the truth,” he said. “But, I had wanted to commit to the Griz and sign with them because they had shown a real interest in me, when no one else really wanted to take a chance on me. So, I decided to come here and prove to them that the chance they took on me was a good decision.

“People in my circle wanted me to wait to sign because they knew what kind of senior year I’d have,” he continued. “But I am a stubborn guy and I know what I want. I missed the deadline to sign, but decided to verbally commit (to play for the Grizzlies). Montana stayed loyal to me, so I stayed loyal to Montana. My coaches told me several colleges were interested in me, and I remember Detroit, UTEP, the University of Portland, and several mid-majors. In the end, though, to come here and be a Griz was the best decision I ever made.”

Kareem Jamar. Photo by Austin Smith for Make it MissoulaHis personal life was turmoil placed in major strife in the summer of his freshman year, when his mom, Deloris Jamar, had a stroke. She was a nurse who worked the graveyard shift while raising eight children, including Jamar, the youngest.  Soon after having the stroke, which resulted in long-term paralysis on the left side of her body and the inability to speak, she had another setback, suffering a heart attack.

“My mom is everything,” Jamar said. “She’s the strongest lady I know. We didn’t get a lot of stuff like other kids did, but we always had home-cooked meals, and we were thankful for that. There were times when we really did want something, and she’d find a way to get it. I wouldn’t be here without her.  It’s hard for me to express how I feel about her because she’s done so much for me and my whole family. She’s my Superwoman.

“Every time I step on the court I am playing for her,” he said. “That’s why I touch the side of my shoes because I wrote ‘superwoman’ on them – to honor her and know that she is with me.

“When she had her stroke the doctor’s said she had a three percent chance of living and she beat it,” he continued, with his large, trademark smile. “After that happened in my freshman year I kind of had to grow up real fast, and become the man of my family, and make sure everything was kept in order, because she was the queen.  I think that was the reason my career really took off, because I wasn’t really playing for me –  now I was playing for my family and for her.  I know she’s proud, and I try to do as much as I can to make her proud of me.

 A year later, during his sophomore season, his brother (Brian Johnson) and sister-in-law (Molly), were found dead in a parked vehicle on the streets of Los Angeles.

“They found him and his wife dead in a car, and no one really knows what happened,” Jamar said. “They think maybe It was a murder-suicide, but they’re not really sure.  That hurt too, because my family is so close, and I couldn’t be there and attend the funeral because it was during the season.”

A year after his brother’s death, Kareem’s great, great grandmother Dorris Dabbs passed away. Kareem’s middle name is Dabbs, in her honour.

“I’ve definitely been through a lot since I’ve been here,” Jamar said. “I just want people to know that no matter what you go through, you can reach success. … I came here a boy and I am leaving a man. This is a very, very special place to me, and always will be.”

Jamar has left a huge imprint on the Grizzly basketball program and in the Big Sky Conference. He currently ranks sixth in school history in career scoring, with 1,995 points, which puts him 17th on the Big Sky’s all-time list.  His 395 career assists are the fifth most ever at UM, ranking him 20th in league history in that category.

The teams he has played for at UM the past four seasons are 85-36 overall and 55-13 in league games. His sophomore and junior Griz teams both won 25 games and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. He was chosen the league’s regular-season MVP as a junior, and he was tabbed MVP of the conference’s post-season tourney twice – something that only four other players have done in the league’s 50-year history.

“I knew I was a hard worker, but I was never sure what that hard work would get me,” Jamar said when asked if he ever thought he would have such an outstanding career. “But when all the accolades started coming, and I won the MVP (of the Big Sky his junior season), then it just showed the fruits of labor when you put the work in.  It’s fun to know now that I will be mentioned with the great players at Montana and the Big Sky. That’s just great, and I am humbled by it. I never thought when I left Venice that I’d be where I am right now.”

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His head coach over the past four seasons, Wayne Tinkle, is proud of how far Jamar has come as a player and as a person.

“He’s just a great kid and he’s really grown up his last four years at Montana,” Tinkle said. “The loyalty that he showed us throughout the recruiting process, and over his four years here, has been stellar. It’s just meant a lot to me personally, and to our program for what he’s gone through and what he has meant to us. He’s won a lot of ball games in his time here, and some championships. He’s just a kid who has really developed both on and off the court at Montana.  I couldn’t be more proud of him. We are hoping for a strong finish, and we know that his future is bright.”

“He’s been looking over me like a mentor and a coach,” said Jamar about Coach Tinkle. “He never lets me slack.  Nothing is ever good enough. I remember when I got my triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds, and 11 assists versus Hawaii his sophomore season), he acted like he didn’t even know that I had got one.  He knows how to push my buttons and how to get the best out of me. I appreciate everything that he has done for me. He’s a guy I am going to talk to for the rest of my life.

“A lot of players don’t get that with their coaches,” Jamar said. “He has been someone special.”

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Like most college hoop stars, Jamar hopes to get a chance to play at the next level.

“I hope to get invited to some camps or two, and I think that if I get a chance to play against some of the other top (pro) prospects I can show what I can do,” he said. “I am still trying to get better every single day. We’re in third place (in the Big Sky) right now, and I’d really like to make it to the (NCAA) tournament again. I really hope we can finish this season strong, and then I will see what happens.”

Jamar is not sure where the future will take him. Wherever he goes he will have strong feelings about the Griz and the Treasure State.

“I play for the name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back,” Jamar said when asked how he wanted to be remembered by Griz nation.

“I take real pride on that name on the back, but I make sure that every time that I step out there that I am playing for Montana.  I play for the blue collar people out there – the tough people. I play for the die-hard fans – the fans who have been watching me play since I was a freshman.

“I want everyone to know that I am always playing for the University of Montana and the state of Montana.”

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