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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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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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’.

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“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.”

NCAA pushes up college hoops start date as Champions Classic will open the season

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The NCAA is pushing up the start of the college basketball regular season to begin on the Tuesday before the second Friday in November.

That means the Champions Classic will open the college basketball season in 2018-19 as announced in an official release on Wednesday. So now, we get Duke vs. Kentucky and Michigan State vs. Kansas in Indianapolis at Bankers Life Fieldhouse to open the college basketball regular season?

Yes, please.

This is a very smart move for the NCAA as men’s and women’s basketball can now open the regular season a bit earlier. The made-for-TV, neutral-court spectacle of the Champions Classic is also the perfect programming to get casual sports fans to tune in for the opening night of college basketball.

There will also be a new level of intrigue for the Champions Classic with all four superpowers making their season debuts in the event next season. Instead of getting a regular-season tune-up to begin to campaign, all of these teams will get thrown straight into the fire.

Hopefully, the sport can continue to make moves like this to generate casual interest and develop more intriguing non-conference possibilities. College basketball’s regular season has suffered from too many lulls in the past. At least now the regular season will start with a bang.

Arizona State benefits from unusual timing in landing forward Taeshon Cherry

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Arizona State has been one of the biggest surprises in college basketball this season as they’re off to a 14-3 start.

The Sun Devils are also rolling on the recruiting trail as they might have landed their signature recruit on Tuesday night. With high-end, four-star forward Taeshon Cherry pledging to the Sun Devils, it gives them a top-20 class and three different four-star caliber prospects coming in next season.

Bobby Hurley has something going here.

In Cherry, Arizona State gets a 6-foot-9 forward who was previously committed to USC but decommitted in late December. Reportedly “Player-8” in the FBI’s case of college basketball bribery, according to Nathan Fenno of the Los Angeles Times, Cherry’s relative allegedly met Christian Dawkins and financial advisor Munish Sood at a restaurant in Los Angeles on Aug. 8. The group was joined by an undercover FBI agent posing as a financial advisor as the gathering was recorded.

Dawkins and Sood were attempting to get Player-8’s relative to use their financial services for when the player eventually went pro. The FBI’s complaint also said Dawkins was given an envelope of $4,000 to give to the relative from the undercover agent.

But with Cherry not being present for the meeting, and no firsthand account of the relative actually receiving the money, it’s uncertain how the NCAA might respond to this.

So Arizona State jumped right in the mix for Cherry and started recruiting him once he decommitted from USC. The Sun Devils brought Cherry in for an official visit to campus on Jan. 11 — only weeks after Cherry’s decommitment — and were able to secure the commitment days later as he canceled a trip to Texas A&M.

This commitment is no doubt a product of unusual timing and circumstances.

When Cherry pledged to USC right after the July live evaluation period, Trojans assistant coach Tony Bland hadn’t been involved in the FBI scandal and the Trojans had a top-25 team returning this season. Arizona State was only 30-35 in Hurley’s first two seasons and they hadn’t secured the two four-star commitments they would later get in October.

Now, the Sun Devils are a darkhorse Final Four team after its surprising start this season and they were able to land a highly-touted recruit merely weeks after he left a conference rival. Things have changed quickly in the Pac-12 recruiting race in the past few weeks. And Arizona State also benefited from the unusual circumstances surrounding Cherry and his recruitment.

With commitments in each of the next three classes as well — yes, Arizona State even has a commitment from a high school freshman in the Class of 2021 — the Sun Devils are starting to sustain a presence at every level of college basketball. Arizona State will have to replace some talented seniors when Tra Holder and Shannon Evans depart after this season. The program also seems like its heading in the right direction with all of the talent that is flocking to Tempe.

Four-star recruit Joey Hauser enrolls early at Marquette

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Marquette’s top recruit in the Class of 2018 is enrolling early. According to a release from the school, four-star forward Joey Hauser has enrolled at the school and will join the basketball program.

The younger brother of sophomore forward Sam Hauser, the younger Hauser will redshirt this season and have four years of eligibility remaining.

Suffering a few injuries the past few years, Hauser had surgery on his ankle in early December as he’ll get a chance to rehab on campus while also acclimating to the team and school.

“We are really excited to have Joey join us for the second semester,” Marquette coach Steve Wojciechowski said in a release. “It’s a unique opportunity for him to recover from his recent surgery while also becoming acclimated to our basketball program and university.

“He is without question one of the top players in the class of 2018 and for him to be able to get a head start on his career is a tremendous positive.”

Hauser is regarded as the No. 52 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, according to Rivals, as he helped Stevens Point win three consecutive WIAA Division 1 state titles during his first three seasons.

While Hauser won’t be able to play and help Marquette this season, the Golden Eagles only have one senior on the roster in Andrew Rowsey. That means the entire roster gets a head start on being together for next season as Hauser should be a contributor by then.

Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey out four weeks with knee injury

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Notre Dame freshman D.J. Harvey will miss the next four weeks with a bone bruise in his left knee.

Harvey, a 6-foot-6 wing, played only seven minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to Louisville on Tuesday night as he’s played 18.2 minutes per contest. With senior All-American candidate Bonzie Colson going down to injury, Harvey had been playing increased minutes for the Fighting Irish, including 37 minutes in Notre Dame’s loss to North Carolina.

Harvey averaged 5.8 points and 2.9 rebounds per game before the injury. The Fighting Irish are fighting the injury bug right now with Colson and Harvey out as their rotation gets even thinner. Notre Dame has dropped three consecutive games as they are 13-6 on the season and 3-3 in the ACC. Another tough game looms for the Fighting Irish as they face Clemson on Saturday.

Texas fans helped raise over $100,000 for Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund

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Texas fans have helped raise over six figures in support of the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund after the sophomore guard was diagnosed with leukemia last week.

The University of Texas helped launch the fund, with all donations heading towards the medical and necessary family-related expenses for Jones that are allowed within NCAA rules.

Although Jones’ diagnosis was tough for many around college basketball, the fund has helped raise over $104,000 in just over five days.  Over 1,300 people have donated towards the fund, which is the only family-approved way to help Jones and his family with medical costs.

The website for the Andrew Jones and Family Support Fund can be found right here.

A former McDonald’s All-American, Jones was in the midst of a solid sophomore season with the Longhorns before the public announcement last week. Jones averaged 13.5 points and 2.0 assists per game in 10 games this season.

Without Jones in the lineup, Texas won an emotional double-overtime thriller over TCU at home. After the win, Texas coaches and players honored Jones with signs of support. The Longhorns lost their lost Big 12 game by a point on the road at Oklahoma State as the Cowboys honored Jones before the game with special shooting shirts in his honor.