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'twan Tower

College basketball: Jamison, who knows about moving, has taken big steps with Tar Heels.

March 27, 1997|GEORGE DOHRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the fall of 1989, Albert Jamison loaded his car with everything he owned and everything he loved, including a lanky 11-year-old son named Antawn.

The boy did not want to leave Louisiana but knew even then that moving was the business of his father. For five years, he and his mother, Kathy, had stayed in Shreveport as Albert moved to Kentucky, Ohio and several other states. As a construction worker who built housing for the federal government, Albert Jamison didn't move from place to place, but disaster to disaster.

The fall of 1989 was Hurricane Hugo. The destination was Charlotte, N.C.

"I hoped this would be it, so I took them with me," Albert said. "I was hoping we would settle for good in Charlotte. I knew it was a good city with a low unemployment rate and figured I could find a good job and stay."

So after they moved into a modest home outside the Queen City, Albert Jamison made the new house permanent in his son's eyes. He put up a basketball hoop in the backyard. He set the height for 12 feet, and told Antawn it would help his game if he played on the taller hoop.

"The best move of our lives," Albert said about going to Charlotte and also setting the basket two feet higher than regulation. "Look what it has done for Antawn."

Just look.

Standing in the center of the floor in the Carrier Dome after Sunday's East Regional final at Syracuse, N.Y., Antawn Jamison, the North Carolina player most responsible for the Tar Heels' presence in the Final Four, sported a smile very much like the one Rasheed Wallace wore the last time North Carolina had such a team.

In the 1994-95 season, Wallace, a sophomore as Jamison is now, pushed the Tar Heels to the Final Four along with teammate Jerry Stackhouse. Both left for the NBA after that season. Wallace made his decision in the spring of 1995, shortly after the 6-foot-9, 222-pound Jamison chose to attend North Carolina.

He was working on his post moves on that 12-foot hoop, went inside for his one-hour "SportsCenter" break, and saw Wallace deliver the news.

"I thought that I would come in [as a freshman] and learn from Rasheed, and get some time backing him up," Jamison said. "But when I heard [the announcement], I really didn't know what was going to happen."

What happened was that Jamison, whose first name is pronounced "AN-twan," started 27 of 38 games, had the first 20-rebound game by a Tar Heel since 1979, and was an all-Atlantic Coast Conference selection.

This season he averaged 18.2 points and 9.5 rebounds and again was an ACC first-teamer, the first Tar Heel since Brad Daugherty to earn that honor in consecutive seasons.

He leads North Carolina into Saturday's game against Arizona averaging 17.7 points and 8.5 rebounds in four tournament games.

"He has really elevated his game," sophomore guard Vince Carter said. "I look at him like a shorter Rasheed Wallace. And I think he is just starting to show what a great basketball player he is."

The Tar Heels would not be going to Indianapolis, sight of the Final Four, had Jamison not scored 15 points in the final 10 minutes in a 63-57 regional semifinal victory over California.

Also, with his team struggling to hold a lead in the East Regional final against Louisville, he scored 11 late in the second half and North Carolina advanced, 97-74.

"We have a lot of special players on this team, and Antawn is certainly one of them," North Carolina Coach Dean Smith said.

He became a special player in the Jamisons' backyard, playing on the basket that Albert, who now works for the city of Charlotte renovating housing projects, put up.

"I told him that playing on the [taller basket] would help him get used to shooting over the taller players in the NBA--he would learn to shoot with more arc on his shot," Albert said.

It also helped turn him into a dynamic leaper.

"Most teams' major concern is to keep me off the boards," Jamison said. "But I have to come in with the attitude that no one can keep me off."

He was a raw player when he arrived at Charlotte's Providence High. In one of Jamison's first practices, Coach Bob Angley put him on the low block and asked him to try to dunk taking one step.

Jamison slammed it with ease.

"I had played with him and I knew he was a great player [coming out of high school]," Carter said. "But he just didn't get a lot of the attention that he deserved."

When Jamison went to North Carolina, he benefited because Carter was the most heralded recruit in his class. While Jamison was an All-American in some publications, he was not as touted as Carter, who was supposed to continue the line of great shooting guards such as Michael Jordan and including Stackhouse.

"All the pressure was on Vince," Jamison said. "I could just come in and work."

He played so well early in the season that Smith said he reminded him of James Worthy, and his rebounding skills were so advanced that guard Jeff McInnis, a teammate in 1995-96, began calling him "Rodman."

That name has given way to " 'Twan," a nickname even Albert uses.

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