SAN FRANCISCO — Being home for more than four months during the pandemic brought Jamreee Bouyea back to his childhood roots.
Unable to just stroll into a gym and work on his craft, Bouyea went back to where it all started, launching basketballs into the Seaside breeze through metal nets on outdoor courts.
“A court is a court,” the University of San Francisco senior guard said. “Wherever I could put the work in, I took it to the grind. I had to push myself. I made the extra time beneficial to me.”
Slipping into the Palma gym over the summer with the likes of Orlando Johnson and Noah Allen — both of whom are playing professionally in Europe — when permitted certainly didn’t impede the 6-foot-2 guard’s progress.
“I ran into Jamaree a few times,” said Palma basketball coach Kelley Lopez, Bouyea’s coach for three years. “We tried to help him get some work in. If I could open the gym for him, I would. He is like the sixth man of our family.”
Four years at USF have flown by for Bouyea. While a fifth-year is an option after the NCAA gave all athletes another year because of the pandemic, that’s not the direction he’s leaning in.
“I’m hoping I’m making a case this season to get to the next level,” Bouyea said. “Right now my focus is getting this team to another level this season.”
The first half of the season for the Palma product has certainly warranted a second look from NBA scouts as Bouyea has elevated his game on a national stage.
The senior is averaging a career-high 18 points a game for the Dons, leading the team in assists while shooting over 55 percent from the field and 45 percent from beyond the arc.
“It’s his leadership that has galvanized those guys,” said Seaside’s Finest basketball coach Jason Hieb, Bouyea’s travel ball coach. “You can tell that this is his team. I watched a scrimmage at USF earlier this year. The level of respect for him is evident.”
Hieb, who has worked with Bouyea since he was in the fifth grade, would like to see his former pupil shoot a little more for the Dons, who are 9-7 overall.
“You look at his line after a game,” Hieb said. “His line will read 5-of-9 from the field, or 4-of-7. He should be taking 15 to 17 shots a game. I’d like to see him be more assertive.”
Yet, at the same time, Hieb believes the 21-year-old Bouyea’s game is geared toward the next level in that he is unselfish and moves the ball around the court.
“His game transfers to the NBA with his vision,” Hieb said. “He still has time this year to get on a few more scouts’ radars. In his conference guards are getting recognized.”
It’s been nearly 40 years since a player from USF has been drafted into the NBA, the last being John Hegwood, taken by the then-San Diego Clippers in 1982.
But USF has a storied history of NBA icons, going back to Bill Russell and KC Jones, as well as Phil Smith, who helped the Warriors win an NBA title as a rookie in 1974.
“I’ve tried not to think about it,” Bouyea said. “It’s a weird topic. When you do, that’s when it gets into your head. When the time comes, I’ll look at my options.”
The focus for Bouyea since returning to campus in the fall is getting the Dons back to the NCAA tournament, which has eluded the program since 1998.
The Dons made some noise earlier this season when they went on the road for a tournament and stunned then-No. 4 Virginia 61-60, with Bouyea igniting them with 19 points.
“That was one of the biggest wins in my career here, maybe in my life,” Bouyea said. “It told me that this team can compete with anyone in the country when we show up.”
Calling it one of his greatest achievements on the hardwood says a lot since Bouyea led Palma to the CIF State Division IV championship game as a junior in 2016.
After the win over Virginia, Hieb watched a video of the team celebrating in the locker room with perhaps the program’s biggest win in 20 years — well almost everyone was rejoicing.
“It was a big celebration, with players dancing around,” Hieb laughed. “And then there’s Jamaree just sitting there. He leads by his actions on the court. He’s a silent leader.”
One of the quicker guards in the nation with a nice touch on the perimeter, what makes Bouyea intriguing is his wing span expands his 6-2 frame to someone closer to 6-9.
Overshadowed by his offensive heroics is his defense. Last year Bouyea was third in the conference in steals and is among the team leaders this year.
The point guard has also been durable for the Dons, having started 48 consecutive games dating back to last winter, averaging over 35 minutes a game this year.
“The smart people out there are going to look at him hard,” Lopez said. “If you look at what he’s doing and the way he plays the game, he makes the right play and he guards people.”
Lopez, who has watched nearly every game Bouyea has played this season, often takes notes and offers his former pupil encouragement rather than advice when they talk.
“Quite honestly in a weird way, he’s on the same track as when he was here,” Lopez said. “He has gotten better each year. He’s comfortable being a leader. You can hear it in his voice.”
In Bouyea’s own humble way, he has a little more swagger, having drawn comparisons to current Atlanta Hawks guard Rajon Rondo, who won NBA titles with both the Celtics and Lakers.
“My teammates keep me accountable,” Bouyea said. “Being a leader is not easy. I’m not really a big talker. I prefer to lead by example.”
While Bouyea says little on the court, when he does speak, it gets the attention of his teammates. He has become more active during time outs and in practice in terms of being focal.
“We have to hold each other to a higher standard,” Bouyea said. “We have to bring the energy and effort each night. When we’re having an off night, we can’t let it mess with our heads.”
Bouyea calls himself out first. While he has led the team in scoring in 10 of their first 14 games, he’s had a couple of games he’d like to have back.
“I need to take the approach that each game is my last,” Bouyea said. “This is an opportunity to showcase my talents and get this team to the next level.”
While being tested for COVID-19 daily — sometimes twice on game days — has become a part of Bouyea’s routine, what has been hard is getting used to playing in empty arenas.
The atmosphere that often accompanies college basketball has been missing because of the pandemic and will likely look this way the rest of the season for most arenas.
“You have to find different ways to create that energy,” Bouyea said. “We have to hype ourselves up, be ready to play and steal a win.”
Bouyea shot 20 percent from the 3-point arc as a freshman four years ago. He has more than doubled that percentage over his four years at USF.
The improvement has been rapid, going from a role player in Bouyea’s first two years to a team leader this season.
“It’s confidence,” Bouyea said. “I’ve put in the work and time. I’m shooting with confidence. I got quicker, smarter and stronger. I’m well-coached. I’m very proud to see my game getting better.”
Bouyea helped Palma go 36-0 in Gabilan Division play in his three years as a starting guard, and was a two-time Herald Basketball Player of the Year.
While the sacrifices this season because of the pandemic have meant staying away from family and friends, his game has put him back into the spotlight.
“The story is still being written with Jamaree,” Hieb said. “There is much more he can attain. He will play professionally somewhere next year.”
Contributed by local news sources