Feature Photo Courtesy of Cassy Athena
Since he began playing basketball, Jamal Hartwell Jr. has matched up against older players. Now, it is just the norm for the Fairfax High School (Calif.) junior point guard.
Hartwell Jr. recalls playing basketball as early as the age of three or four. When the local recreational basketball league did not accommodate his age group, his father, Jamal Hartwell Sr., decided to place him in an older one.
“[The basketball league] didn’t have my age,” Hartwell Jr. said. “I was only three or four at the time so [my dad] put me with the six year olds. And ever since then, I’ve been playing with older people. All my life, pretty much.”
“When he sat on the bench, he would sit there and wait his turn,” Hartwell Sr. said. “When it was his turn, he would get out there and play. He never acted like a baby so I always knew he would be coachable at some point.”
While others might be overwhelmed by the physical and mental disadvantage, Hartwell Jr. has used it to his advantage.
“At first it was tough,” Hartwell admitted. “But by the time I was 11 or 12, I got used to it. Once I got to my own age [group], I could see why my dad made me play with the older kids.”
Hartwell Jr.’s unique circumstances don’t end there. His father, an alum of Fairfax, coaches him, working as an assistant coach. It’s nothing new for Hartwell Jr.
“Now, I’m so accustomed to it,” Hartwell Jr. said. “He’s been coaching me my whole life. Ever since I was a little kid, he’s always been in my ear, pushing me to do better, always in my head. It’s actually pretty good at the same time because it’s harder for him to get me better from the stands. When he’s right there on the bench, he can tell me more things and I can listen to him better.”
“It’s a little weird but at the same time, it’s gratifying to share something like that because it doesn’t happen to a lot of people where you have your kid go to the same school and have an opportunity to coach him,” Hartwell Sr. said.
The pairing is unlikely to extend past high school, as Hartwell Jr. holds an offer from the University of Montana and is receiving looks from mid-major programs like Santa Clara University, University of Denver, and University of Hawaii.
Hartwell Jr. did not know much about Montana prior to their offer but recently got the chance to get a feel for the program.
“Last year in May, my cousin graduated from [Montana],” Hartwell Jr. said. “I went to the graduation and talked to the coaches … They brought me to their office and we talked about what they’re all about and what they’re trying to do for the future and they laid out a plan and everything.”
Despite the offer from Montana, Hartwell Jr. still thinks his play has gone under the radar.
“… I don’t have as many offers as I think I should have,” Hartwell Jr. said. “The past two, three summers, I’ve been playing in front of almost every college in the country and I’ve been playing well too.”
Hartwell Jr. uses his lack of offers as motivation to get even better.
“I definitely want to be a top-tier player because I feel like right now I’m heavily overlooked,” Hartwell Jr. said.
Even with firm beliefs about his play, Hartwell Jr. is content with his sole offer. A year away from making a decision on college plans, he is aware of what is in front of him, which he noted is a great opportunity.
“In a year, if I’m at where I’m at right now, I’m perfectly fine with that because Montana is a great school and I’d actually go there,” Hartwell Jr. said. “It’s a good situation but I don’t want to rush the process or hurry up and commit because something better might come.”