Kareem Jamar (Getty Images)

Kareem Jamar finally gets a shot at being the star as Montana shoots for a three-peat in the Big Sky

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Kareem Jamar is a native of Southern California. He’s from Venice. He was raised on palm trees and smog and impossible traffic jams. Warm weather is in his blood.

Jamar also played for two powerhouse programs while he was being recruited. Westchester HS is one of the best programs on the west coast, routinely churning out high-major recruits. They won a state title when Jamar was a junior and a senior The Compton Magic AAU program that he was a part of gets as much exposure as anyone.

It begs the question: how did Jamar end up playing his college ball at Montana?

“When Montana called, I had never really heard of it,” Jamar told NBCSports.com. “I didn’t know where it was on the map.”

Head coach Wayne Tinkle and his staff at Montana have developed a system for identifying under-the-radar prospects. Instead of chasing the pipe-dream of luring a top 100 recruit to Missoula, they’ll go after the fourth or fifth guy on a loaded AAU or high school team. They’ll target the glue guy, the kid that is obviously talented enough to earn a scholarship but is willing to blend into the background for the sake of winning.

(MORE: Click here to read NBCSports.com’s Big Sky Preview)

That’s exactly what happened with Jamar. He’s solidly-built, moderately-athletic 6-foot-5 guard that is talented enough to score and unselfish enough to make the right pass instead of force a tough shot. He’s not a layup line scout. He’ll be the best player on the floor, but you won’t realize it until you look at the box score and see his 15 points, six boards and four assists.

Montana was one of just a handful of schools actively recruiting Jamar, and while they were able to get him to make the trek up north, the Grizzlies didn’t get a commitment until the day after the fall signing period. “We were like, ‘that’s never going to come through,'” Montana head coach Wayne Tinkle told NBCSports.com. “He’s going to have a great senior year, everyone’s going to jump on board, and we’re going to miss out.” It didn’t help matters that Jordin Mayes and Dwayne Polee, two highly sought-after recruits, were in the same class as Jamar at Westchester.

But the status quo remained: Westchester won a state title; Jamar was named all-city after averaging 12 points, 5 assists, and 4.5 rebounds; and Montana was the best school to offer him. On the first day of the spring signing period, Tinkle received Jamar’s letter of intent.

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source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Kareem Jamar’s college career has been pretty close to perfect.

After earning a trip to the CBI as a freshman, Jamar has been one of the best players in the Big Sky the past two years, helping lead the Grizzlies to regular season and tournament titles the past two seasons while being named Big Sky Player of the Year as a junior.

But despite the team success and individual accolades, Jamar has never really generated much attention at Montana. He’s played for three seasons and has never been the program’s leading scorer. He’s spent his basketball life as a supporting actor, but with Will Cherry and Mathias Ward gone and graduated, Jamar is ready for his shot at being ‘the man’.

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

“I’ve been in my brother Will Cherry’s shadow for three years, and he taught me a lot, but I have been in that shadow,” Jamar said. “I’ve proven [myself] in every big game, but [being overlooked] is nothing new. I’ve had that chip on my shoulder all my life. It doesn’t really bother me, but it definitely motivated me.”

Jamar is going to have plenty of chances to prove himself as a senior, as Tinkle is going to build the offense around him.

“Guys like Cherry and Ward, they demanded the ball, for good reason,” Tickle said. “So Jamar’s going to have more opportunities. But the thing about him, he’s so unselfish, he was responsible for a lot of the baskets that those guys got. And others. So he’s going to be the focus of everybody’s defense, but I think our offense, overall, will be a little better because he’s also going to be our main facilitator.”

It’s that versatility that makes Jamar so dangerous. When he has to, he can score 20 or 25 points, taking a game over scoring the basketball. But Jamar’s best asset is his ability to create, which is what makes him so difficult to stop. Opponents can’t double-team him because he’ll get rid of the ball. They can’t send to much help-side defense, because he’ll find the open man. Part of the reason he’s so good at blending in is because he’s so good at making the people around him better.

“I am going to be a little more aggressive. I have to,” Jamar said. “I’m still going to stick to my roots, though.”

That’s a unique skill to have.

And perhaps the best news for Jamar is that the Big Sky has developed a reputation for churning out NBA caliber lead guards. Everyone will remember Damian Lillard, who was named Rookie of the Year after his career at Weber State ended. But did you know that Rodney Stuckey was a product of the league as well? He’s in his seventh season in the NBA, averaging 11.5 points for his career after leaving Eastern Washington.

Jamar is already getting some attention from NBA scouts. They call him a throwback, an old-school player. I’m sure the success of players of his ilk from that league hasn’t hurt matters.

But what matters the most for him right now isn’t the NBA. It isn’t necessarily the chance to prove just how good he actually is.

Jamar wants to make it back to the NCAA tournament. He wants to win a game and erase the memory of back-to-back whippings from Syracuse and Wisconsin.

“The way we lost, it just made us seem like we were on a different level, and as a man and a player, you don’t want to feel that way,” he said, “that someone is that much better than you. They put their shorts on just like you put your shorts on.”

“I just have to prove to them that I can play at that level.”

Villanova beats Duke, Kansas, Indiana for Jermaine Samuels

Atlanta, GA - MAY 27: Nike EYBL. Session 4. Jermaine Samuels, Jr. #23 of Expressions Elite dunks. (Photo by Jon Lopez)
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Villanova landed a commitment from top 50 prospect Jermaine Samuels on Saturday.

Samuels is a tough and athletic 6-foot-5 wing that will remind many Wildcat fans of Josh Hart. He’s got the same kind of versatility and nose for the ball that will let him guard perimeter players as well as work in as a small-ball four. Players like this are a specialty of Jay Wright.

Samuels picked up an offer from Duke recently and also had Indiana, Kansas and Georgetown in his top five. Beating out blue-bloods for a prospect like this is quite the statement for Villanova, one that should tell you the reigning national champs are here to stay as a national power.

Syracuse lands critical piece in Andrew White

LINCOLN, NE - FEBRUARY 3: Andrew White #3 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers shoots the ball over Rasheed Sulaimon #0 of the Maryland Terrapins during their game at Pinnacle Bank Arena on February 3, 2016 in Omaha, Nebraska. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
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Syracuse has found their replacement for Malachi Richardson.

On Sunday, Nebraska transfer Andrew White committed to the Orange, picking Syracuse, in the end, over VCU. White is a graduate transfer who spent last season with Nebraska, where he averaged 16.2 points while shooting 41.2 percent from three. A top 50 prospect out of Virginia back in the Class of 2012, White played a limited role for Kansas his first two seasons in college.

This is a significant pickup for the Orange, one that legitimately puts them into the conversation as a Final Four contender and a threat to finish at or near the top of the ACC. Jim Boeheim has put together a roster full of talented, long and athletic front court players, but after Richardson declared for the NBA Draft as a one-and-done freshman, he was left with just two back court players on his roster.

Earlier this offseason, Cuse landed Colorado State grad transfer John Gillon, a 6-foot-1 combo-guard, to reinforce their back court. The addition of White gives them a lights-out shooter and a big-time scorer on the wing, something that would have been a major void on their roster.

With Paschal Chukwu getting eligible at the center spot and Tyler Lydon likely landing on every breakout player list this preseason, the Orange should be a markedly better team than the one that made their way to the Final Four last season.

Arizona lands first commitment in 2017 class

Alex Barcello (Jon Lopez/Nike)
(Jon Lopez/Nike)
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Arizona landed their first commitment in the Class of 2017 on Friday night as point guard Alex Barcello pledged to Sean Miller and the Wildcats.

Barcello is a 6-foot-2 point guard from Tempe who plays his high school ball for Corona del Sol. He committed to the Wildcats on an official visit to the Tucson campus.

Barcello is a borderline top 100 prospect who sits at No. 123 in the Rivals top 150. He’s known for his ability to shoot, and he’s more of a combo-guard — i.e. shoot-first — than a point guard at times, but he’s a nice pickup and projects as a solid four-year player for the Wildcats.

Virginia, Indiana, Stanford and Butler were the other four schools on Barcello’s list.

Duke lands first commitment in 2017 class

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Alex O’Connell knew exactly where he wanted to play his college ball, which is why, just two days after picking up an offer from Coach K and the Blue Devils, he became Duke’s first recruit in the Class of 2017.

O’Connell announced the on twitter on Friday afternoon:

O’Connell is a four-star prospect from Georgia that had a terrific summer, going from being a borderline top 75 prospect to a player that caught the interest of Duke, who, along with Kentucky, sit atop the college recruiting hierarchy. He’s an explosively athletic and lanky 6-foot-6 wing with three-point range on his jumper. He needs to add some weight and some strength — he’s listed as a crisp 175 pounds — but he has the tools, and the swagger, to develop into a very effective player in the ACC.

Is he a one-and-done prospect?

Probably not. In fact, since 2010, Duke has landed just two players that were rated lower than O’Connell: Antonio Vrankovic and Jack White. If you know who both of them are, you’re probably either Jon Scheyer or lying.

But what O’Connell is is a kid who put in the work to get better this past year and who has the skill set, the physical tools and work ethic to continue to improve. He may not be on Grayson Allen’s trajectory, but O’Connell has the makings of being an impact player for the Blue Devils for three or four years.

Alex O'Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)
Alex O’Connell (Jon Lopez/Nike)

Shaka Smart lands contract extension at Texas

Texas head coach Shaka Smart instructs his team in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game against Baylor on Monday, Feb. 1, 2016, in Waco, Texas. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)
AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez
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Shaka Smart has already landed himself a contract extension at Texas.

The school, according to the Austin American-Statesman, has given Shaka a one-year extension — through the 2022-23 season — and bumped his salary up to a cool $3 million, a raise of $100,000 annually.

Smart’s Longhorns went 20-13 last season and lost on a half court buzzer beater from Northern Iowa’s Paul Jespersen. It will be tough for Smart to match the success that he had last season, specifically because he lost senior point guard Isaiah Taylor to the professional ranks.

That said, the former VCU head man has been reeling in quite a bit of talent from the state of Texas — namely, Andrew Jones and Jarrett Allen — and is not all that far from turning the Longhorns back into a relevant member of the Big 12 title race.