It’s been four years since Antawn Jamison suited up for a professional basketball team, but his finger is still very much on the pulse of the basketball world.
Jamison, the 1998 National Player of the Year at North Carolina, retired from the NBA in 2014 after a 17-year NBA career, but joined the Los Angeles Lakers as a scout last October. As such, he’s been very attuned to the franchise’s offseason moves — none more significant than signing LeBron James to a four-year contract in free agency.
Jamison is from Charlotte and graduated from Providence High. He was back in town Thursday for the 16th annual HoopTee celebrity golf tournament at The Ballantyne resort, hosted by Hornets president Fred Whitfield. He spoke about James’ impact on the Lakers, the Hornets’ signing of Tony Parker, predictions for the current UNC basketball team, and the potential elimination of the one-and-done rule in college basketball.
The interview, edited for grammar and brevity, is below:
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Q. The Lakers have been the talk of the NBA this offseason, and as a scout for the team, you have an inside perspective as to what’s going on. What have been some of your takeaways from everything that’s happened this summer?
A. It’s making my job a lot easier, I can tell you that much (laughs). Definitely an exciting time. After I retired, I started doing some work for the Lakers, and I’ve kind of seen them try to figure some things out. A couple of coaching changes and in the front office. Magic Johnson is magic. He’s made a promise to the Buss family and also to Laker Nation that he’s going to figure things out, and what better way than for probably the best player of this generation to join your organization?
So there’s a lot of excitement around the Lakers’ fans and the NBA about LeBron joining the Lakers, and for myself, it just gives you that extra boost of energy to make sure you’re holding up your end of the bargain. Definitely some fun times.
Q. Being at summer league, you had a chance to watch some of these young players live. Who among them impresses you, and how do you see them fitting with LeBron?
A. The Wagner kid from Michigan (first-round pick Moritz Wagner) is a big kid. Offensively, he can spread the floor. If you’re big in the NBA today, you either have to shoot the ball, be able to pass the ball, or you’ve got to be an unbelievable athlete — running up and down the court, setting screens, dunking — and he has a combination of doing all that, so definitely excited about him.
We’ve got a young kid from Kansas (second-round pick Svi Mykhailiuk) who is showing people that not only is he an athletic player, but he can definitely shoot the ball. Just his mindset has been unbelievable.
A lot of these young guys, you know, the kid Collin Sexton out of Cleveland, he’s showing a lot of people that he has a certain type of toughness that’s going to last for a couple of years in the league. I’m definitely excited the way the NBA game is at now. A lot of people are disappointed with the way Golden State keeps stacking their team, but hey, man, if you wanna win, you’ve got to find a way to compete. I think you’re starting to see a lot of teams do that. It’s surprising you’re starting to see a lot of superstars, like Kawhi Leonard leaving, or DeMar DeRozan getting traded, but that’s what the NBA is all about. It’s something to talk about. It’s a lot of excitement.
My friend Mitch (Kupchak, Charlotte general manager) is here with the Hornets, so I got an opportunity to talk to him, and I like the vision he has for the Hornets, as well. It’s good for this region to get some excitement and some young players here.
Q. What does a veteran guy like point guard Tony Parker bring to this Hornets locker room?
A. A guy who’s going to compete. He’s a guy who has been there, done that. He comes from a culture (in San Antonio) that is accustomed to not just winning, but trying to win a championship year in and year out. You have a situation where you have a lot of young players, and it’ll be good to have a veteran guy like that who has seen it all.
He knows the coach (James Borrego) particularly well, so the coach is going to lean on him as much as possible. But the most important thing is that he’s a great example on and off the court, and he’s really going to teach these guys the veteran way, the championship way, and the way to come in and compete.
Q. How often are you back in Chapel Hill and how much are you able to keep up with current UNC teams?
A. I do the scouting, so I was up in Chapel Hill probably three times a month.
(Joel Berry) was doing (well) until he got hurt (ankle), but they loved the way he competed and what he was doing. I kind of knew he would sign to the G League, so he’s excited. And Theo (Pinson, with Brooklyn Nets) did a great job. We tried to get him with the Lakers, as well. Magic (Johnson) really liked him. So I got the opportunity, and now especially during the summer time, I’m trying to find a reason to get back there. Play some golf (laughs). I’m down there every opportunity I get. That’s home. That’s my second home, no matter where I go. Between Charlotte and Chapel Hill, I can’t be gone too long.
Q. So what predictions do you have for this season’s Tar Heels?
A. It’s going to depend on our bigs. If our bigs can step up and compete. ... And then the (Nassir) Little kid? Phew. He’s a special talent. But we need the rest of our bigs from last year, Garrison (Brooks) and all those guys, to improve. Because I’ve seen the other point guard (Coby White) who’s coming in, I’ve seen Little play. We’re not going to miss a beat. We’re going to have those guys competing.
And then we’ve got a couple of veterans (Luke Maye, Kenny Williams, Cam Johnson) coming back who have been there before. We just need those bigs to control the paint on both ends of the floor.
Q. Do you think this UNC team is national championship-caliber?
A. Yeah, man. I’m telling you. You’re starting to see the teams where guys that play together (can make it work). ... These one-and-done players have money on the line. They’re worried about getting drafted and all that other stuff.
Q. So what are your thoughts on one-and-done players then? There’s a chance that could go away in the next several years.
A. It would help the NCAA (college basketball), but it would hurt the NBA. Because you’re going to have a lot of guys that would be coming in super young.
I was talking to some of the other scouts who have done this before, and I’m like, “It’s hard to go to these colleges where guys have only been in school for one year.” Now you’re going to go to high school and try to find out? The only way it can be successful is if the G-League is a more formed system like baseball. It has to be, because it’s difficult to have a guy with only one year of college, but he has this athletic ability and the capability of being successful. But now you’re going to these high school kids, and you’re going to put so much money and so much time into them? You have no idea if they’re going to pan out.
This is my thing: If you really have the potential and the talent, it makes sense. But this year, there were so many guys that you knew should have gone back (to school), that you knew weren’t going to get drafted and stayed in the draft anyway. There should be a formed developmental system where you’re still in the United States, and they say the money’s going to be a little bit better.
It’s going to be interesting, but it’s going to be great for college. Either you’re in or you’re out.