You'd think that Matthew Wingate would play a more pivotal role
in the story of Antawn Jamison, North Carolina's All-ACC power
forward. Wingate, who operates under the nom de coiffure of
Bluppy, is Jamison's barber. And Jamison, a 6'8" sophomore able
to leap tall forwards in a single bound, hits the boards with a
zeal reminiscent of Dennis Rodman.
This is an article from the Nov. 15, 1996 issue
But unlike the man of fluorescent follicles, Jamison is a quiet,
down-to-earth 20-year-old kid, a literal choirboy who missed his
first high school hoops practice because he was singing in
church. (Technical fouls received: none; tattoos received:
same.) And chances are he will stay that way, meaning that
Bluppy will never have the occasion to dye Jamison's hair green
or carve an elaborate design in it.
These days Jamison is content to sport a shaved head and hang
out with the gang at Edward's, the storefront barbershop a few
miles from his home in Charlotte where the 25-year-old Wingate
cuts hair. "It's a great place to hang out," says Jamison.
"Someone will raise a topic, and we'll sit around talking for
If Jamison ever does decide to embrace the Rodman look, he
certainly has the game to go with it. As a freshman last season,
playing for Tar Heels coach Dean Smith, Jamison averaged 15.1
points and 9.7 rebounds per game, shot 62.4% from the floor and
led North Carolina to a 21-11 record in what was supposed to be
a rebuilding year. (Yes, that's the same Dean Smith who in 1983
wrote an op-ed piece for The New York Times entitled "Why
Freshmen Should Not Play.")
When Jerry Stackhouse and Rasheed Wallace both left school after
their sophomore seasons to enter the '95 NBA draft, Smith had
little choice but to turn to his freshman class of Jamison,
swingman Vince Carter and forward Ademola Okulaja. "Rasheed and
Jerry had an effect on why I came here," says Jamison. "I was
thinking, They've got two of the top guys, and I'll be playing
with them next year. When they decided to leave, it was kind of
heartbreaking, because I had visions of having a ring on my
finger the next year. But then again, that meant playing time
Initially the lion's share of expectation was placed upon
Carter, who had gone to Chapel Hill from Ormond Beach, Fla., as
one of the most sought-after recruits in the country (second
only to Stephon Marbury, who chose Georgia Tech). The 6'5"
Carter was immediately dubbed "the next Michael Jordan." But as
the season progressed, it was Jamison who merited the
comparisons to former Tar Heel greats (the phrase "the next
James Worthy" was bandied about with some frequency on Tobacco
Road last winter). He got off to a fast start, picking up the
first of his 13 double doubles with 14 points and 12 rebounds
in the team's seventh game of the year, against Georgia on Dec. 7.
"He's so explosive," says Okulaja, who battles Jamison for
rebounds every day in practice. "He's back up in the air before
you are even on the ground." Ironically, Jamison's ups were
responsible for his only down last year. After North Carolina's
96-72 victory over N.C. State on Jan. 4, Smith informed Jamison,
who had just scored 26 points, that he would not be starting
against Maryland in the next game. The reason? Despite the fact
that Jamison had nine boards against the Wolfpack, Smith felt he
was relying too much on his athleticism in getting to the ball
and was not boxing out well enough. Jamison responded by coming
off the bench against the Terps to grab eight boards and score
31 points, including the game-winning basket off a rebound. Just
11 days later at Virginia, on Jan. 17, he became the first Tar
Heel since Mike O'Koren in 1979 to grab 20 rebounds in a game.
"It seemed like every time I looked up, the ball was coming my
way," says Jamison. "Once you really start boxing out, rebounds
come your way." Lesson learned.
If Jamison's stellar freshman performance came as a surprise to
some, it wasn't the first time he had shocked people with his
talents. Two months before Jamison started his sophomore year at
Providence High in Charlotte, Bob Angley, the school's coach,
called and asked if Jamison would be interested in playing on
his summer-league team. Angley told Jamison that the team would
practice the next Wednesday and play its first game the
following night. Come Wednesday, Jamison was a no-show.
"I didn't really know him," says Angley, who had seen Jamison
play only once before. "When I called him up to ask why he
missed the session, he said, 'In our house on Wednesday nights
we go to church, and I had choir practice.' I didn't know
exactly what I had."
At Thursday's game, Angley quickly found out. "His first touch,
he got double-teamed," says Angley. "He caught a pass at the
foul line, and two guys came at him. All of a sudden he took one
dribble and dunked. I turned to my assistant and said, 'We might
have something here.'"
Ask Angley about Jamison and he will recite a litany of amazing
feats--like the 1994 state playoff game against West Charlotte
High, in which the forward scored 19 points and grabbed 18
rebounds, all the while playing with a broken left wrist. And
then there's Angley's personal favorite, the time at practice
when Jamison got the ball in the corner on a press-break drill.
The lone defender was positioned a few inches behind the
backboard, one step outside the lane. Jamison drove at him, and
when the defender tried to force him out-of-bounds, Jamison
leaped around him, behind the backboard, and somehow managed to
reach back and dunk on the poor kid. "I just saw the guy's eyes
roll back in his head," says Angley of the dunkee. "I told him,
'Just remember it, because when he's famous you're going to
realize he can do it to other people.'"
Angley has off-the-court tales too; he likes to tell about the
summer day when Jamison had to leave a Carolina basketball camp
early to go visit his parents but still took the time to
personally speak to each of the 80 kids in his group, or the
afternoon he stayed after practice to get to know a 10-year-old
boy who had been watching the Tar Heels scrimmage. "I think
Antawn has a sense of gratefulness for things that a lot of
people in his generation take for granted," says Angley. "He's
just grateful that he's able to play." And for that Angley
credits Jamison's parents, Albert and Kathy. "His mom and dad
are two of the neater people I know," he says. "I put a lot of
stock in parenting, and Antawn's dad has shown me more about
parenting than anyone else."
Much of Antawn's childhood was spent in Shreveport, La., where
he grew up with his younger siblings, Albert Jr. and Latasha.
For much of that time his father was on the road, building
housing for the federal government. When Kathy told Albert that
Antawn was getting too big for her to handle by herself, Albert
decided to move his family to wherever his next job led him,
which, in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo in 1990, turned out to
One of the first things Albert did upon arrival was to clear an
area in the backyard and put up a hoop. "I didn't have a tape
measure handy when I put it up," he says. "It was a little
higher than it should have been." The extra-high backboard did
not do wonders for Antawn's jumper, but he swears that
practicing on it made him a much better inside shooter and
rebounder. It also taught Jamison--who was already a prodigious
leaper--to fly even higher. Today he estimates he can stuff
upwards of 12 feet; as a sophomore in high school, he could
easily jam with the rim at 11 feet.
Though Jamison has always been a great athlete, his overall game
did not really blossom until he began playing AAU ball in the
spring of '93, following his sophomore season at Providence. As
a member of the Charlotte Royals, Jamison found himself playing
against burgeoning talents like Shareef Abdur-Rahim, Kevin
Garnett and Ron Mercer. In 1993 Jamison led the Royals to
national titles in both the 17-and-under and 19-and-under
divisions, and was named an All-America at both levels, an
achievement he would repeat in 1994. Those performances earned
him a spot on the USA Select Team in the 1995 Hoops Summit, an
international exhibition game played in Springfield, Mass.
"A couple of us had to push to get him on that team," says
Royals coach Rod Seaford, who sits on the board of directors of
USA Basketball, the national governing body for the sport.
"Antawn suffered an injury to his wrist his junior year, so he
didn't get to play AAU ball in the spring. He wasn't evaluated
then, so his stock went down. But it was clear after the second
practice that he belonged." On court alongside future NBA
players Abdur-Rahim, Garnett and Marbury, Jamison helped the
U.S. to an 86-77 win over the international competition.
With the players he faced in AAU tournaments now making
millions, Jamison is fairly certain that he has what it takes to
make it in the NBA. Although he understands the importance of
getting an education--Jamison hopes for a career in sports
management someday--he can't help but think about pro
possibilities. "It's every kid's dream to play in the NBA, and
I'm not going to lie to you--I know I'm in the position where
it's really in my favor," he says. "When people ask about the
NBA, I try to push them off, but there is going to come a point
in time when I can't push them off anymore."
Leaving North Carolina early would be a tough call for Jamison.
Not only is he set on getting his degree, but he is also having
a great time. Jamison, Carter and Okulaja instantly hit it off
upon meeting last fall and quickly became known as the Three
Musketeers. "We have a special bond between us," says Jamison.
"We always click, we always understand each other." Turning pro
early would mean realizing a dream, but it would also mean
putting an end to the college experiences he's so thoroughly
"I think every high school player, if they have the opportunity
to attend college, should go for at least two or three years,"
he says. "If you go to the pros straight from high school, it's
just like missing childhood years because it's all business.
I've talked to some of the guys [in the NBA], and they say
there's no play time. I'm in college now, and I see myself going
to parties and hanging out with my friends. If I was in the NBA,
I wouldn't be able to do that. I think some of those guys don't
know what they are getting in to."
When Jamison does makes his move to the next level, one thing is
for sure: He'll know exactly what he's getting in to. "He has a
very good head on his shoulders," says Seaford. "He's one of
those kids you don't mind doing things for because you know he
appreciates it. There's no star syndrome. He hasn't begun to
think more of himself than he needs to." Other than Bluppy's
clippers, not much goes to Antawn Jamison's head.