Jamison’s perseverance paid off
by David Garfield, Jayhawk Insider
Alonzo Jamison’s road to basketball glory at Kansas had a few bumps along the way. After signing with Kansas out of Rancho Santiago Junior College (Santa Ana, Calif.) in May of 1988, Jamison saw KU coach Larry Brown leave for the pros a month and half later. Then, Roy Williams was hired in July when Jamison learned he was academically ineligible and would have to sit out the 1988-89 season.

“Coach Williams had told me he would recruit me again if I wanted to go back to junior college another year,” Jamison said. “That’s when I knew he was genuine and really on a level that you don’t see that often in Division I. I decided it would be a lot better if I sat out a year and learned the system and try to help the team out the year after.”

After sitting out the season, Jamison was then sidelined an additional semester for failure to meet NCAA eligibility requirements. The year and a half layoff was a trying time for Jamison, who learned a great deal about perseverance and overcoming adversity. He said the struggles made him a better person.

“That’s when I finally knew (being declared academically ineligible the fall of 1989) I was going to have to buckle down and do my job,” Jamison said. “It sort of prepared me for life. Nobody really cares. After you play ball, you’re a has been. You have to make your own way in life. Nobody’s going to do it for you.”

A tenacious battler and unselfish player, Jamison (6-foot-6, 225 pounds) eventually won over the hearts of the KU faithful and Williams with his work ethic and defense. Williams called Jamison the “quickest learner I’ve ever coached” and one of the top defensive players he’s had. Jamison, who ranks No. 6 at KU in career steals, possessed the strength and quickness to stop opponents both on the wing and in the post.

“He’s had a lot of good defensive players,” Jamison said. “He’s had a lot of good players, period. To even be mentioned in that type of context is kind of special... Anybody could score. At least that was my mentality. It was one of those things where it takes a very special person to go out and shut somebody down.”

Jamison was, indeed, a very special player. He’ll probably be most remembered by KU fans for leading the ‘Hawks into the 1991 Final Four with his career game against Arkansas. Jamison, who scored 26 points and hauled down 9 rebounds, was masterful in keying a second half comeback win. He earned Most Outstanding Player of the Southeast Regional.

“To tell you the truth, I don’t remember a lot,” said Jamison about the victory. “I was more in a zone. People get in a zone and they don’t think about what you’re doing. You just react. I just felt the rim was a little bit bigger than what everybody else was looking at.”

Unfortunately, KU lost to Duke in the title game. The following season, Jamison’s career ended on a sour note when Kansas was upset by UTEP in the second round of the NCAA Tournament. After concluding his collegiate career (10.0 ppg in 1991-92), Jamison tried his luck with professional basketball. He was released by Denver in rookie camp and then sliced by the Los Angeles Lakers in veterans camp. Jamison next played six months in Sweden and two months in France. A few months later upon returning home in 1993, Jamison ruptured his Achilles and had surgery. He then decided to give up the game.

“It was pretty difficult at the time,” Jamison said. “It was one of those things where my body was falling apart pretty good (Jamison also had knee surgery after being cut by Los Angeles) so there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. The mind was willing but the body wasn’t.”

Jamison admits there were other reasons he quit basketball.

“I was so instilled with the team atmosphere and team game in college, I couldn’t take myself out of that realm and put it towards the individual one on one game,” Jamison said. “I think that was my biggest downfall... The professional level is completely different than the college level. For college, you’re playing for pride of the school. Professionally, it’s a business.”

Jamison moved on with his life and became a manager for Applebees restaurant in 1994. After working there two years, he changed professions and entered the banking business. He was a branch manager for Commerce Bank in Kansas City for four years before switching to Bank of Blue Valley. Jamison works with commercial lending as the business development manager for the past year.

“I enjoy meeting people and getting to know people’s needs and try to fit our product with what their needs are,” he said.

When he’s not working, Jamison keeps busy spending time with his wife and three children. And, of course, he follows the Jayhawks. Jamison calls Williams about once a month, “just to see where his head is and give him a pat on the back and let him know he’s still the man.” The California native will never forget the statement Williams made at the awards banquet in 1992 — that Jamison meant so much to the program, he would give the shirt off his back to him.

“It’s one of those things that is still in my mind,” Jamison said. “He’s a very special person. For somebody to believe in me and my skills when he didn’t even know me to tell me he would recruit me again out of loyalty not only from him but the university, we can just say that coach is one of my closest friends.”

Jamison admits their relationship was rough at first.

“All friendships are going to have a rocky stage,” Jamison said. “Ours was at the beginning. I’m just glad he saw something in me that he liked, and we just persevered. I’ve been through a lot with that man.”

In the know with 'Zo

Ex-Jayhawk Jamison enjoying new gig as Mill Valley aide

— Kids these days. They’re all about snowboarding, iPods and the newest edition of Grand Theft Auto. If it happened more than five years — or five minutes — ago, it might as well have not happened at all.

So when Mill Valley High boys basketball coach Justin Bogart introduced his new assistant before the start of the 2004-05 season, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that the Jaguar pupils weren’t starstruck.

Alonzo Jamison? Never heard of him. “The kids in our program were infants when he was playing for KU. They really don’t have any idea of that era of KU basketball,” said Bogart, who was a student on Mount Oread while Jamison was busy helping the Jayhawks to the 1991 NCAA title game against Duke. “I don’t know if they were that impressed until they saw a highlight film of him. Then their eyes were wide-open.”

Funny how a 6-foot-6 forward with quick hands, nimble feet and a penchant for timely low-post production can alter an attention span. That inaugural film session has given way to a 2-year-old relationship that has Jamison honing his new hardwood craft while young, impressionable players moving through the Mill Valley program try to build on helpful hints offered by a mentor who learned at the knee of one of college basketball’s most successful coaches.

“I felt I needed to get back,” said Jamison, who after his three-year career at KU was drafted by the Sioux Falls (S.D.) Skyforce of the Continental Basketball Assn. and played overseas in Sweden and France before retiring in 1995. “I feel I have a lot of knowledge that I need to give back to the next generation of players. It’s a sport I love, honestly. It’s a way to give back for the students who want to learn from me.”

Jamison’s marriage to Mill Valley came about while he worked in sales for Jerry’s Sports Shop in Grandview, Mo. Jamison called on the school, still in its infant stages, and found a willing customer. “We hit it off pretty immediately,” said Bogart, now in his sixth season at the Jaguars’ helm. “We had some money to spend, so obviously he was happy about that.”

When Bogart was looking for a new assistant prior to the 2004-05 season, and no one at the school was willing to commit, his wife suggested he ask Jamison. “I invited him in to talk about it, and he agreed,” Bogart said. Not that Jamison needed any arm twisting.

“I came through to see if I could do anything with him. I just wanted to see if I could get my feet wet in the coaching field,” said Jamison, reflecting on his initial visits to the Mill Valley campus. “The next year, this came about, and I jumped at the chance.”

By both Bogart’s and Jamison’s account, the latter’s first year on the sidelines focused on finding comfort in this newest chapter of his basketball life. This winter has seen Jamison take a more active role in guiding a junior varsity program that owns a 15-3 record while also helping fine-tune a varsity squad that is 17-1, ranked in the Kansas Basketball Coaches Assn. Class 5A poll and likely to earn a No. 1 seed entering next week’s sub-state tournament at Topeka Highland Park.

“He’s a tremendous asset to our program. ... I’m still exploring all the potential he has to give us,” said Bogart, who singled out Jamison’s ability to connect with players as one of his biggest strengths. “No matter what they think of him as a college player, he has fostered a respect with them, and they have in return. That’s critical to effective coaching.”

A big reason is Jamison’s ability to not dwell on his KU and pro careers. “He never mentions it at all,” said Andrew Wendorff, a Mill Valley junior who splits time between the varsity and junior varsity teams. “He doesn’t want any of that. If people didn’t say anything, you would never know.” “We brought in a poster one time that said ‘The O-Zone,’” added junior Ted Novak, “and he got real embarrassed.”

Then again, there are times when Jamison’s pedigree has undeniable benefits. “He always gives us tips on what he learned from Roy Williams,” Novak said. “That’s obviously legit.”

While Jamison has nothing but good things to say about Bogart and his disciplined basketball culture, he admits there are moments when he envisions himself calling the shots of his own program.

But, first things first. “I’m enjoying what I’m doing right now, and I’m learning a lot,” Jamison said. “That’s what I wanted to do — learn how to run a top-notch program and go from there. “Who knows what the future may bring?”