Jeff (III) and Jason Capel were born with basketball in their blood. From the time the brothers were toddlers, they had a basketball in their hands. They really had no other choice. The son of Jeff Capel Jr., both grew up in gyms as their father ascended the high school and college coaching ranks from Pinecrest High School to Wake Forest to Old Dominion University.
“Our dad never forced us to do anything,” Jeff Capel III said. “But what kid wouldn't want to hang around great basketball players. We (Jason and I) were always in gyms. We grew up being around the game. ”
Following in their dad's footsteps, both sons took their games to the next level with Jeff III earning a scholarship to play for coach Mike Krzyzewski at Duke (1993-97), and Jason taking a full ride to play for Bill Guthridge at North Carolina (1998-2002). Jeff and Jason, five years apart in age, lived up to their billing, as both were four-year starters for teams that went to the Final Four.
“There aren't many parents (if any at all) that can say they had one son go play basketball at Duke and one at Carolina,” Capel III said. “I think that was a very special time for our family.”
After college, Jeff and Jason moved onto professional basketball careers. Jeff III in the Continental Basketball Association (CBA) and France while Jason played in the National Basketball Developmental League (NBDL) before going to play in Japan and Italy. But while both Capels made good money overseas, they did not realize their dreams of making it to the National Basketball Association.
“Every college basketball player's dream, especially if you are a good player on a good team, is to play in the NBA,” said Jason Capel, who was on the Charlotte Bobcats' roster throughout the preseason in 2004 before being cut. “(Both) Jeff and I had a tough time not being able to play the game the way we wanted to. But, we knew we wanted to be around the game.”
At 25 years old in 2000, Jeff III stepped away from the game as a player, and decided he would do something he never thought he would do: coaching.
Jeff first went to work for his dad as assistant at Old Dominion before moving onto Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) as an assistant. Jeff III then became the youngest Division I head coach in Division I basketball at age 27 at VCU. After four successful seasons at VCU, including trips to the NCAA and NIT tournaments, Capel was named the head men's basketball coach at Oklahoma, where he is today.
“I saw what my dad had to go through as a coach, growing up,” Jeff III said. “(So) I never actually thought I'd be a coach. It's not something I even wanted to do.”
As Jeff Capel III climbed the college coaching ranks on the fast track, Jason's back was limiting what he could do on the basketball court as a player. After a long rehab stint with the Charlotte Bobcats medical staff, Jason finally took doctors' advice and decided to retire from pro basketball.
“At first when I quit basketball, I couldn't even go near a gym, it was too hard,” Jason said. “I still miss it. I thought at 28, I would have some years left.”
Jason, who was an assistant coach for the boys' basketball team at South Iredell High last year, put his injury in the past. Last basketball season, he began a budding career as basketball commentator for Raycom Sports and ESPN. Jeff III even did radio for the Bobcats for about 30 games.
“College basketball is really all I've ever known,” said Jason, who tried out for Raycom without any training or experience. “I've been on a Final Four team, I've been on an 8-20 team, I've been through coaching changes…. When it comes to basketball, there is not much I haven't experienced.”
Jason hopes to do even more for Raycom and ESPN this season, while Jeff III hopes to build on his first NCAA tournament appearance with Oklahoma this past season. Meanwhile, their dad, Jeff Jr. was retained by Larry Brown as an assistant coach for the Charlotte Bobcats.
But either way, all three continue to work in the field that they love: basketball.
“More than anything else, my dad taught me to be myself,” Jeff III said, saying he said the same things to Jason. “I can't be anyone else. Whether it's my dad, Coach K or whoever. You have to learn how to be comfortable being yourself.”