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Jamison Comes Clean

"I can't promise you'll be in the NBA or you'll make all this money, but I promise you you'll get your college degree," said Smith, who had given similar successful pitches to Michael Jordan and James Worthy over the years. "And when you leave here you'll be a better man and person than when you came in."

"That really sunk in to me because here's a guy that's the best college coach of all time," Jamison said. "And his whole philosophy was . . . off the court. This life and this world is more than just basketball." Jamison left North Carolina as the consensus national player of the year. He returned two years later to finish a degree in African Studies.

Antawn Jamison, acquired last summer from Dallas, has been a shining star for the much-improved Washington Wizards, averaging 21.8 points and 9 rebounds. "I love when people say it can't be done," he said. "When people ask me about trying to turn things around with the Wizards, I don't feel pressure at all. I actually feel like I've been let out of the cage." (Toni L. Sandys -- The Washington Post)

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Antawn Jamison has helped the Wizards tremendously, on the court and off.
Lakers star Kobe Bryant continues to take his shots at former teammates and coaches.
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Jamison was plucked No. 4 by the Toronto Raptors in 1998, one pick ahead of Carter, who was taken by Golden State. The teams had agreed to pick for each other before the draft and immediately swapped players.

Antawn gave his mother simple instructions on the night he was drafted. "He told me, 'Go get yourself a house. Go get something big to live in. It's time for you move on up,' " she said.

"We became the Beverly Hillbillies of Bugtussel," Albert Sr. said, laughing.

The family moved from a very modest $65,000 house to a 9,000-square-foot, $850,000 dream home in Charlotte's oldest and most exclusive neighborhood, the Providence Country Club area. "You can count the black families that live out here on one hand," said Albert Sr. "First, I was a little intimidated. You know, these folks got all this money. But come to find out half of them had to work two and three jobs to get what they had."

Jamison's father elected not to retire after his son signed his first contract. He worked four more years, driving a forklift for the Lance cracker-cookie company in Charlotte. "I wanted all the kids to know that just because he's got money now doesn't mean you stop working," Albert Sr. said. "You still have to work, that's the most important thing. Just because you got money, you're no better than anybody else. My feeling has always been, if you're going to be a pooper-scooper, be the best pooper-scooper you can be. I wanted my children to grow up with that mind-set."

With Antawn's help, Albert Sr. opened a barber shop last year. Antawn also bought LaTosha a home in Atlanta.

Between injuries and playing time, Jamison's first two seasons with the Warriors made him question his abilities. "I didn't even play that much that first year and Vince was just soaring," Jamison said. "For a while I thought, 'Is it going to work out?' A lot of people doubted me, saying, 'You're a tweener,' " meaning coaches thought Jamison was caught in a positional no man's land, somewhere between an undersized power forward and an oversized small forward. "They'd say, 'What is he going to do?' "

He eventually put up huge numbers at Golden State, but he also became a lightning rod for scrutiny after signing a six-year, $89 million deal in 2002. As the team continued to miss the playoffs, Jamison became a player defined by his exorbitant contract. "When I talk about all my critics, that's where it came from," he said. "It started then. 'I'm not a leader. Don't hit big shots down the stretch. Cannot lead a team into the playoffs.' All that stuff came right after I signed the contract. It was like, 'He's making 80-something million dollars and we can't win?' "

In the summer of 2003, Jamison -- against St. Jean's wishes -- was shipped to Dallas. He became a part of a playoff team for the first time in his career before he was traded to the Wizards. His five coaches in five years with the Warriors each had their conception of what kind of player they thought Jamison could be.

"I've been in so many so-called pressure situations before. This is nothing," Jamison said of the expectations surrounding him in Washington. "I know a lot of people are looking at me to do a lot. That comes with the territory and I understand that. But this is a walk in the park for me. I've got help now."

Rising to the Occasion

Jamison galloped to a spot a few inches from the New York Knicks' bench last week. He caught a pass behind the three-point line and let fly an arcing rainbow from the left corner, a swish that gave the Wizards their first lead of the game and persuaded 16,000 fans at MCI Center to rise and roar.

The shot was important, helping Washington to an overtime victory over a Knicks team that advanced to the playoffs last spring. It also helped defy long-held perceptions about Jamison as a player.

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