Educator, Community Leader, Philanthropist, and Humanitarian. Hmmm. Sounds like Bill Gates right? Try again. This must be Oprah? Well only if who I’m talking about was actually a woman. Despite the above-mentioned titles normally being associated with household names, CEO’s of major corporations, and global icons, quite frankly, there are people who are making a splash in the world without much noise and graciously accept any thanks they are given, if any. In steps Jamael Lynch, professional basketball player and NBA prospect. Unknown to Lynch when he first began to handle the rock, his skills in between the 94-foot rectangle would be used to parlay his dreams into real life events and impact the lives of many. Not only has his hoop dreams paid the bills for him, basketball has been a platform to tackle his own non-profit and for-profit organizations, flourish in a modeling career, and even get on-camera to show off his flair for acting. This has been done while staying on track with feeding his entrepreneurial spirit. I guess it’s safe to say that you can add bona fide hustler to his description as well.
Fast forward past a successful high school career, tournament championships, and multiple awards, to where the game does a complete 180 and the stakes are ten times higher: the college ranks. Despite great talents, basketball prowess, and the will to win, sometimes all of those things are not enough to cut the mustard to achieve basketball greatness. While performing at an exceptional level on the Junior College level by averaging more than 12 points, ranking in the Top 25 of all major statistical categories, and leading his team to a school record, 55 wins and 13 losses, from 2003-2005 at SUNY Cobleskill, the grind of basketball was apparent for the hoops standout.
Upon pursuing greater challenges, and more intense competition, a change of scenery was needed. After sitting out a year to work on his game and generate interest from several schools, he was recruited to take a chance and walk-on at the University of Rhode Island. He gladly accepted since he was a firm believer in himself and his abilities. Though he made it to a big time program, he accepted the fact that he made the great sacrifice of no longer being the go-to man on his team in order to progress. His minutes were cut, and his points per game took a dip. For many, that would be the making of frustrated player who would sit in haste and grumble to himself while blaming everyone but himself. Leave it to the ambitious 20-year old to turn a negative into a positive. These circumstances were the foundation that pushed Lynch to limits he thought were unreachable. By the end of the 2006-2007 season when team accolades were handed out, Lynch had earned the “Team Spirit Award” for making his teammates better by matching the quality of play to that of a starter in practice, and tirelessly supporting the team on their way to a conference championship. Little did he know that these were valuable lessons for his future, and the long-term impact it would have on his career.
Although success was achieved at Rhode Island, as he entered his final collegiate campaign Lynch was soon faced with circumstances that would surely alter his basketball path. Upon learning that his mother began to suffer heightened complications from diabetes, he made the decision to transfer to UMass Lowell, a top Division 2 school in the nation. Though a slight detour, he was able to receive a little more flexibility with his basketball schedule to visit and tend to his mother in New York that a Division 1 school would not provide. In light of the adversity he faced,he averaged nearly 10 points and saw his per game totals increase in the categories of assists, rebounds, and steals in 2007-2008. Scouts, Agents, and various members of the basketball community took notice on a national and international scale.
With his collegiate career ending on a strong note, along with strutting in his cap and gown to receive his Bachelor of Arts in Marketing, Lynch exhaled a huge sigh of relief after getting back onto the path he initially set his eyes on. Soon enough, the phone began to ring, his name began to circulate in some of the top managerial circles, and the buzz was ballooning at a rate he never experienced. Before he knew it, he was on an 8-hour flight to play professionally in France at the 22ft Basketball Academy. While soaring through the sky, Lynch literally knew his road to the NBA was official like a ref with a whistle. With a newly minted mindset and Terminator-like precision on tackling his newest challenge, he turned into a madman and averaged 18 points, and 14 assists, per contest during his rookie year as a professional. Though he is listed at a shade taller than six feet, his game surpassed that of the height of two Shaquille O’Neals. After one season, the westward move across Europe was in full effect, as he went to play at the 1st Regionalliga in Germany. If his first year wasn’t impressive, he surely upped his game in year two. By netting 27 points a game and more than 10 dimes each time he graced the hardwood, it was clear that a bigger task was at hand. As an instrumental piece in leading his team to an International Championship and displaying great leadership among his teammates and coaches, they understood that they would have the inspired point guard in their presence for a short period of time because his performance demonstrated that he was in a class of his own.
Though overseas and pursuing his childhood fantasy, there were many nights of staring at the ceiling where the realization became clearer that the road to the promised land was not cupcake city, as Dick Vitale would say. Countries he had never been to, food that tasted funny, and languages that made his eyes cross were never in the initial picture of the “dream” to play in the NBA. Nonetheless, to have the dream in the palm of his hand, Lynch knew he had to be willing to go to the earth’s edge to accomplish it. In times of clearly being knee-deep in the unknown, the dedication to the game and his fitness regimen remained intact: the 6:00 a.m. wake-ups for a power breakfast followed by 2-mile run remained a constant, two-a-day gym workouts never slipped out of his schedule and were as common for him as a morning brush of the teeth, and on top of that, the clacking of metal plates became music to his ears during his daily weight training routine. In light of the many uncertainties that surrounded him during his European tour, his commitment and continued drive towards his ultimate goal of playing in the NBA is what made Lynch believe the best was yet to come.
Then the call came from the National Basketball Development League (NBDL) that he was drafted in the 2011 Draft by the Erie Bayhawks. All of a sudden, Lynch began to salivate like a pit bull staring at a T-bone steak. Knowing he was on the NBA’s doorstep by playing for the New York Knicks farm team, the 6’1 guard was now peering through the front window of the Association while knocking more than your neighborhood Jehovah’s Witness. The Bayhawks selection was the siren that indicated his work was paying off. While some would sulk and focus on the fact that they would be hooping in rural Pennsylvania, the Brooklyn native’s “Let’s get it!” attitude kicked in. A trait he acquired years earlier during his collegiate days when things appeared to be dim at the University of Rhode Island. Luckily for him, no matter the environment, his regimen remained a well oiled machine and he had plenty of momentum once he stepped back onto American soil. The Bayhawk practices were telling of the will and self-determination he possessed, as picks that were set for him were sharply escaped, and he suffered his fare share of floor burns from diving for loose balls, all of which contagiously affected the effort of his teammates and positive play when the bright lights came on. These displays of exceptional character led to invitations to NBA camps with the likes of current pros, Kevin Durant, Rudy Gay, and Kyle Lowry. But instead of being star struck or shying away from the challenge of top flight competition, the fresh Nike’s were laced up, and the opportunity was treated as if it were a job interview (meaning the A-Game was in the building). Hell-bent on getting better with each decision, dribble, and shot that was taken against those who receive the highest NBA praise, his game elevated to the level of the competition. This “AHA!” moment set the stage for the following 2012-2013 season with the Dallas Vandals of the American Basketball Association (ABA).
While in the Lone Star state, it was evident that Lynch graduated to becoming a floor general of the highest rank. The ability to play both ends of the floor, and impact the game on paper and in the huddle gained applause from some of the most esteemed players to enter the NBA fraternity. Mark Aguirre, former overall No. 1 pick in the 1981 NBA Draft, and famed member of the Detroit Piston’s “Bad Boys,” lauded Lynch’s game by describing him as a “Seasoned player awaiting a fair opportunity. He is savvy in transition and has solid decision making with great floor general skills.” This kind of attention came on the heels of his per game averages of 15 points, 5 assists, 5 rebounds, and more than 2 steals a game with the Vandals. Sure enough, NBA scouts began sifting through the stat sheets and game tape to get the inside scoop on this diamond in the ruff that could give their career that prized recruiting gem and upgrade them to an executive level position.
Unfortunately, there are always physical bumps in the road for any athlete. So as Lynch prepared himself for his big break after solid play, the dreaded injury bug reared its ugly head in his direction and locked on like a top-secret military homing missile. Though he performed at a high level upon returning to the United States, Lynch battled though tearing his labrum in his right shoulder (shooting shoulder), and nearly fracturing his foot in 2012 and 2013. Both injuries sidelined him for weeks and surely halted the much needed on-court action that would propel him into the league. Irrespective of any injury that life threw his way, Lynch used the time he was unable to play, as an opportunity to become even more of a mental wizard of the game. This served as the springboard to sharpen his mind and focus on his spirituality in order to get back onto the court with ease. Using every lesson as a tool, he also began to prepare for life off of the court, as he realized that an injury could snatch any career away in a heartbeat.
Though his off-the-court aspirations were already in motion, once injured, the importance of these initiatives were magnified and greatly emphasized. The knowledge he has gained from his collegiate and professional experiences are now being implemented into the JLynch57 Foundation, which was founded in 2011. Through this exists non-profit and for-profit initiatives that he is spearheading for the benefit of today’s youth and will take place during the summer of 2014 (July and August). The for-profit, “The Big and Little Skills Academy,” is a weekly developmental clinic that schools basketball enthusiasts between the ages of 8-18 on the social, mental, physical, and nutritional benefits, and obstacles that come along with the sport. Guidance from pro’s like Lynch, former NBA player Vin Baker, along with other professional and collegiate players that support the same mission, will provide an opportunity for an experience rather than a place to merely run a few drills. Using basketball to build confidence, develop self-esteem, and instill responsibility and accountability at an early age, pre-teens and teenagers will leave the Academy with the ability to exceed their own expectations and tackle life’s curveballs. Then on weekends the competition will intensify at the non-profit program, “Get Your Game Up.” Here, the kids will be challenged to go hard in Saturday practices in preparation for Sunday’s basketball tournaments. Kids will be able engage on a competitive level and showcase their new moves that they learned the day prior through one-on-one coaching coupled with educational basketball sessions that teach the X’s and O’s of the game.
Both programs will showcase Lynch’s learned tutorials on what is needed to excel and play basketball at a high level. He intends to emphasize the beneficial long-term impact that constant repetition will have on any player’s game. From his experience in youth leagues through playing professionally, Lynch has the ability to pinpoint which small learning moments and teaching tools are often overlooked by a younger player. With attention to detail being such a critical part of any player’s success and development, the crafts of shooting, ball-handling, pre-game preparation, and critical individual self-analysis geared towards constant improvement, will be reinforced so all participants in the programs can soak up every ounce that game of basketball has to give. These skill building exercises are designed as a segue to provide the youngsters with transferrable techniques that will equip them to handle the job-force, personal and professional relationships, and unexpected obstacles that they are bound to encounter upon entering adulthood.
Lynch’s exposure to the pros and cons of the game will be a highlight of the Academy, as many aspiring professional athletes only see the positive that come along with being a star and obtaining celebrity. Many begin their love for the game by emulating their favorite player in hopes of making it to the NBA. Along that road, guidance and advice can make all of the difference, and can prepare you for the ups and downs that the basketball journey has for each player. The paths of Lenny Cooke versus Lebron James speak volumes about having a solid supporting cast that have someone’s best interest at heart. But despite Lynch’s achievements up to this point, some things he was just not prepared for. “Schools won’t always go your way and recruit you, and learning how to rebound from your falls is big. No obstacle should stop you. Just know that life is testing how strong you are and the kind of character you have” is what he said about the twists and turns of pursuing his dream. These very life experiences that were attacked head-on will be echoed to all throughout each clinic, as they fight through each drill, and confront adversity when they miss a last-second shot or get pulled out of the game for a lack of mental focus and turn the ball over.
While knee deep in his community efforts and his pro-hoops career, Lynch hasn’t let that deter him from other ventures and career interests that he is preparing for A.B. (“After Basketball” for you history buffs). Acting, Modeling, and continually growing the Skills Academies are all on his plate, and he is chomping at the bit. His on-camera talent has been explored by being featured in national advertising campaigns for Boost Mobile, Footlocker, Nike, and Spalding. All of which came to him by first perfecting that quick crossover dribble and pull-up jumper from the free-throw line that all guards must execute in their sleep. Before heading down these roads, it was realized that basketball would serve a purpose for him off the court as well. “I always wanted this game to be a platform to help other people and myself in other ways. It had to be more than just basketball. It helped me become a better person and instilled the necessary traits to succeed even after my playing days are far behind me.” That kind of thinking from Lynch shows that he is wiser than what his 29-year old age would predict. By thinking ahead, maintaining a creative mindset for leveraging opportunities, and anticipating his career and future business, a lane of his own is being carved. While some may need basketball to give them millions to begin new ventures and community-based initiatives, he simply takes what the defense gives him; life in this case, rolls up his sleeves like James Evans of Good Times, and gets the job done to keep everything afloat and moving in a forward motion.
With a never-say-die attitude that got him through some of the most humbling times earlier in his career, Lynch has surely put in the work to thrive in the future. At this point, some may say “What else is there to be done? He is already a success.” The New Yorker may chuckle at such a comment, knowing he is striving to be a legend for generations to come and mountains of the unaccomplished stand in front of him. But what do you call a “success” that’s actually just getting started? Undoubtedly on a path to constantly reinvent himself, before you know it, “success” will be substituted by “great,” then great will be substituted by “transcendent,” and so on. Through tackling new challenges, and pushing for the unimaginable, it would be wise stay tuned for only the second chapter of what we will know as the evolution of Jamael Lynch.