Jamaree Strickland sees the world differently. Some may even say the Richmond native has his head in the clouds. If anyone would know it’d be his mom, Stacey Strickland, who recalls that even back in preschool, when her son stood behind his friends they just reached up to the top of his stomach.
“I don’t remember ever being average height,” Jamaree Strickland said upon his recent return from playing basketball in France for the USA Elite Under-23 team. “In the fifth grade I was six feet [tall], and in the eighth grade I was 6’8″. My senior year I grew to 6’10”,” he said.
Strickland, who can stand beside a street sign and matter-of-factly grab the top of it, said he can’t remember the last time he went outside without being asked how tall he was.
The young man, who became rising basketball star his freshman and sophomore years at McClymonds High School in Oakland, didn’t get to play his junior and senior years because of two anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) knee surgeries. (He later graduated from Metwest High in Oakland.) But this fall he will hoop it up for the University of Cincinnati Bearcats playing center.
Strickland said after his second knee surgery he knew he’d have to play a fifth year of prep ball somewhere if wanted to continue his athletic career. He chose Queen City Preparatory Aademy in Charolette, N.C., where he caught the eye of Cincinnati’s head coaches and elite travel teams.
“Jamaree is a big, strong inside presence, sort of like Zach Randolph of the Memphis Grizzlies,” USA Elite Under-23 head coach Linzy Davis said over the telephone about his former center. “Now he doesn’t quite have the offensive skills of Zach Randolph, but he has the potential to be a Zach Randolph-type player. He’s going to have an outstanding future at Cincy.”
Davis, who has coached the likes of Carmelo Anthony, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, Chase Budinger and the Lopez twins, said he handpicked Strickland to play on the international team because the Richmond giant has good strength, footwork and can finish around the rim. But it was Strickland’s ability to hit the 15-foot jumper that surprised him the most, said the coach.
Strickland’s game is not a polished diamond. Davis said while in France, one of the first things he noticed about his center was that he shot layups like he was 5’10”. “Cincinnati is not looking for a guy below the rim,” the head coach said. “They’re looking for a guy who can play above the rim. [I told him] I needed to see every layup above the rim and I needed to see dunks. Only that.”
And dunks it was. Davis was so impressed with Strickland’s development during the international tour that he started the “seven footer” in the championship game against Russia. Strickland responded with one dunk and eight points against the Russians.
But basketball hasn’t always been easy for Strickland, nor was his Richmond childhood. His mother said he almost quit the sport twice. The first time was in the fifth grade because of unrealistic pressures to be “all world,” and the second time was in the 11th grade after his best friend was murdered, she said.
The emotional shock Strickland felt about the loss of his friend paralyzed him. He stopped going to school and spent many days alone locked in his room, soul searching. He said he felt responsible for the death because he had introduced his friend to the person who was later convicted of killing him.
“I was like the world was over for me,” Strickland said. “It took me a whole year to get my head straight. I just finally realized people are going to pass.”
Strickland’s mom, Stacey, credits Metwest High teachers for helping him leave the house again and return to school. “There was no lacking at that school,” she said. “[Teachers] would ask him ‘Why are you having a bad day? What’s going on?’ They made him open up and talk.”
“I would text and call him and have his classmates do the same so he really knew there was a community of people that really cared about him,” said humanities teacher Ashley Kaplan. “We did this until he finally started coming back to class. It was a rocky year for sure, but he returned his senior year with renewed focus and his mind set on getting into college.”
Strickland said he wants to study sports management or sports broadcasting while at Cincinnati. “I kind of want to be like how Shaq is,” he said of the former NBA star, “how he has all these TV shows after his career.”
“It’s really unbelievable—a dream come true,” said his father, Joe Augustine, about his son’s physical and mental journey as he heads to college. “The degree is the biggest thing that I can ever imagine. To graduate and walk across that stage—that’s the key. I’m so proud of him; I’m honored to be his dad.”