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December 06, 2001

A star is reborn
By Dan Patrick

So often when a young basketball player leaves college early, he makes some news on draft day but then fades away. For every Jason Kidd or Allen Iverson, there are many guys who do very little in the NBA. Heard much about Richard Hamilton or William Avery lately?

Antawn Jamison left North Carolina early in 1998. He was chosen fourth overall by the Toronto Raptors and then traded to the Golden State Warriors for fellow Tar Heel Vince Carter and cash. While Carter has since skyrocketed to fame, Jamison seemed headed for a career as an NBA journeyman.

Antawn Jamison
Antawn Jamison has learned what he needs to thrive in the NBA in the shadow of Vince Carter.

As we all know, Jamison burst onto the national scene on Sunday night when he scored 51 points against the Sonics. You won't believe this but I had him scheduled to be on my radio show the next day anyway. That night Jamison put up another 51 against the Lakers in a game the Warriors won in overtime. Last NBA guy to get 50 or more in consecutive games, and he did it three straight, was also a Carolina guy. Not Carter or Jerry Stackhouse, third in scoring in the league right now. It was Michael Jordan. Nice company to be in as you plot your resurgence, Antawn.

In our interview, Jamison admitted that he knew he had some work to do. The NBA had humbled him in his first two seasons. He knew he had to go back home and work on his jump shot in the off season. Jamison, not Vince Carter, was college Player of the Year in their last year at North Carolina. But Jamison had clearly been overshadowed by Carter on the professional level. Jamison is one of those guys who isn't big or strong enough to play power forward and not quick enough to play the 3 spot, or small forward. He seemed destined to follow in the footsteps of UCLA's Ed O'Bannon, another college player of the year who just didn't quite fit in with the pros. There was nothing remarkable about Jamison's game in college except that he was consistent. And even that deserted him at Golden State.

Being humbled and realizing that he had some work to do was the first step for Jamison. Another asset was his coach. Dave Cowens was also one of those in-betweeners when he played at 6'9" for the Boston Celtics. He was not supposed to be able to play the center position. Two NBA titles later, and one MVP award, Cowens had proved the doubters wrong. And as Cowens once told me, you can't teach hustle, but you can expect it. That kind of motivation had to be good for Jamison, especially after he realized he wasn't happy with his NBA performance. Working on your game in the off season is surely a form of hustle.

I am not completely surprised by Jamison's recent development. In both times that I've interviewed him for the show, he just seems likable and coachable. He's not pretentious. There is nothing about him that says "notice me" although you can't help but notice someone when they put up 50 on back to back nights. But it still comes down to, as he said, not having a jump shot. He worked on his game and we are seeing the results.

Vince got the attention so it allowed Jamison to make his mistakes with Golden State.

Now the rest of the league will not just roll over for him. In his next game after dropping 51, Kobe Bryant winked at him and said "You're not going to out-shine me tonight." Well, they both got 51 points. Statistical tie and all that. But the game went to Golden State and that's a big win for Jamison personally as he is the one on the struggling team and Bryant is on the defending champion. That Golden State plays under the Lakers' state wide shadow makes it an even sweeter victory.

Jamison, displaying a lot of insight for a young man, also told me that Carter's early success actually helped him. Vince got the attention so it allowed Jamison to make his mistakes with Golden State. He was mired in mediocrity, really struggling, but we didn't realize it because he was playing for Golden State. And it's not like the comparisons weren't fair. Carter and Jamison were college teammates, drafted pretty high and then traded for each other. It's a natural move to chart their careers together.

This year, Vince has come down to earth a little while Antawn has risen and taken his game a step further. He has now become what people thought he was going to be. He is actually living up to his billing. Can you win "Comeback Player of the Year" in your third season?

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