Jack of all trades: Recruit emerges from soccer background to hoops stardomby Javier Morales on Jan. 12, 2010, under Sports
CHECK OUT A VIDEO OF KADEEM JACK AT OUR PARTNER SITE: WILDABOUTAZCATS.COM
His name is that of a Hollywood script writer creation: Kadeem Jack, known as K-Jack to his teammates and friends, and it’s fitting considering the storyline.
A kid from Trinidad and Tobago, where cricket and soccer dominate the sporting landscape, walked through Cambria Heights Park in Queens one spring afternoon four years ago and caught the eye of a passerby. The man, Damien Lesley, did not see a soccer player, but a lanky kid who could grow into a formidable basketball player. Jack’s long arms, height and build made Lesley believe the kid already played basketball.
Truth is, Jack hardly touched a basketball at that point in his life, as a 13-year-old. His meeting with Lesley altered his life, and future aspirations.
“I would not be where I’m at today if it weren’t for (Lesley),” Jack told me Monday night. “I credit him for bringing basketball into my life.”
The Roman Catholic presence of the Cambria Heights area spurred Lesley to ask Jack if he desired to play basketball at a Catholic high school. Lesley piqued Jack’s interest and the youngster agreed to give basketball a try at Rice High School, a Catholic school in Harlem. When Jack started the ninth grade, Lesley introduced him to Maurice Hicks, Rice’s head basketball coach.
It took a couple of years, into his junior season, for Jack to realize his potential.
“I knew nothing about how to play when I started, so it took me a little while to grasp things,” said Jack, now a starting center as a senior on Rice’s heralded program. “Local schools like Rutgers and Seton Hall started to show interest last year and things kind of took off.”
Took off is also an apt description for Jack’s game. The 6-foot-8-inch, 200-pound, post player, has developed a reputation as an athletic leaper around the basket, especially on defense and with his rebound positioning. This season, he has worked diligently on his offensive skills, often sticking around the gym late to practice his ball handling and mid-range shot. He already has shown a decent postup move with his back to the basket.
In a recent game, won by Rice 83-48 over rival St. Raymond’s in the Bronx, Jack tallied 19 points and eight blocked shots.
“He’s a great athlete and his timing on blocked shots is phenomenal,” St. Raymond’s coach Oliver Antigua told the New York Post after the game. “There were some questions on what level he can play on, but forget about that. He can just do things that are special.”
In Jack’s mind, not all aspects of his game are special. He wants more versatility.
“My offense is an area of my game that I want to improve the most,” Jack said. “I’ve been working very hard on my ball-handling skills and ability to create offense off the dribble out in the open floor. Right now, I can score around the basket. I feel confident in my ability with my footwork around the basket.
“I want to be more of an offensive threat anywhere on the court.”
Four years ago, footwork to Jack meant maneuvering on the soccer field like Dwight Yorke, the Michael Jordan of Trinidad and Tobago soccer. “Basketball never entered my mind (while growing up),” he said. It did not take long for Jack, who exudes confidence just from his voice and his mannerisms, to become intrepid about competing against basketball players his age who at least double his years of experience on the court.
He is so confident in his ability that he wants perhaps the most storied college basketball program in America to give him a look. He no longer dreams about playing for Trinidad and Tobago’s national soccer team, which qualified for its first World Cup appearance in 2006. He desires to play basketball for the North Carolina Tarheels.
Roy Williams, are you reading?
“North Carolina, to me, is an ideal program,” Jack said. “It’s a program that gets a lot of respect nationally. Where I play, at Rice, it is the same way. People across the nation know about Rice High School because of some of the players who have played here (such as Felipe Lopez and Edgar Sosa).”
When asked if he believes North Carolina will begin recruiting him, Jack said with a hint of adulation: “I hope so.”
Jack, however, was quick to point out some programs that have shown interest in him, such as Arizona, “are good programs that have coaches I respect.” According to Rivals.com, programs that have offered a scholarship to Jack include Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia and Seton Hall. He is also being recruited by many Big East schools, including Villanova and Pitt. Florida, Texas and California are also in the picture.
“Everybody is equal right now in my mind,” Jack said. “I can’t really say I favor one program over another.”
Arizona coach Sean Miller, who keeps in weekly contact with Jack, is the first to schedule the power forward prospect for a visit (Jan. 26).
The Wildcats entered the recruitment for Jack because of the prior affiliation UA assistant coach Book Richardson had with the New York Gauchos’ AAU program. Hicks is the director of the Bronx-based Gauchos program as well as Jack’s head coach at Rice. Richardson was the Gauchos’ previous director until 2007, when Miller hired him to be part of his Xavier staff.
Arizona’s New York connection with Richardson and freshmen Kevin Parrom and Lamont “MoMo” Jones will not have a bearing on Jack’s decision.
“You really can’t make a decision like this based on where other people are from,” Jack said. “I don’t see how you can do that. The decision should be based on what’s best for my development as a basketball player and student.”
Jack is an accomplished student, but he says he is uncertain what field of study he wants to pursue in college. His desire to further develop as a basketball player and student — “In the end, what I do off the court will be the most important thing in my life,” he said — has him contemplating a year of prep school instead of entering college for the 2010-11 year.
“I am confident of my ability, but I feel like another year (in prep school) will better prepare me for college, academically and athletically,” Jack said. “Unless I feel like I can develop the way I want at a college next year, I think attending prep school and coming out for (the Class of) 2011 will be the smartest thing for me to do.”
The bottom line is Jack has options, which were unforeseen that fateful spring day in Queens four years ago when Lesley spotted the unsuspecting youth from the crowd. The plot only thickens from now until when Jack announces that 2010 or 2011 will be the start of his collegiate experience.