The rise of Jamarion Sharp, the greatest Division I men’s college basketball player

The rise of Jamarion Sharp, the greatest Division I men's college basketball player

BOWLING GREEN, Kentucky — Just before Jamarion Sharp lowered his head so he could walk through the door of a local Mexican restaurant, this happened to him — the thing that always happens when you’re almost as tall as a Christmas tree. — Again.

A young man who had just stopped in El Mazatlan, a local place, stopped walking as he passed Sharp. He nearly dropped his phone as he tried to grab the towering shadow of the 7-foot-5 (that’s not a typo) western Kentucky star.

“Wow! he said to Sharp. “Bro, you… Bro, you have to play basketball?”

Sharp never broke her stride.

“Yeah,” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “Something like that.”

The greatest Division I men’s college basketball player would also stand out in New York or Los Angeles. But this is Bowling Green, Kentucky, a working town in the middle of America. Here, the National Corvette Museum, a series of caves, and a minor league team called the Hot Rods are the biggest attractions.

In Bowling Green, Sharp is Paul Bunyan. He has a wingspan of 7ft 7in and wears a shoe size 18 in a world in which only 2,800 of the nearly 8 billion people are 7ft tall – and only 10 people are said to have ever grown taller. more than 8 feet.

“Since coming to western Kentucky, my image has changed and people have started to recognize me,” Sharp told ESPN. “And then I started going out to places and people would look up and say, ‘Wow, you’re tall. “”

Sharp said he once crave the attention, but now he’s embracing the love that surrounds him in his sophomore season at Western Kentucky. In a turbulent year filled with head coach Rick Stansbury’s losing streaks and health issues, the big man with the giant personality has been a rock for the program, which hopes to end another streak. of potential losses when they host Louisiana Tech (Thursday 9 a.m. ET, CBSSN).

Everywhere he goes, he signs autographs, takes pictures with fans and smiles whenever someone asks him a question about his height or if he’s a basketball player.

As part of a name, image and likeness (NIL) agreement, a local furniture store placed three large billboards showing Sharp with outstretched arms across town. It looked like it was touching the city.

The deal helped him buy a car that suited his frame. No longer stuck in undersized vehicles, Sharp has a new Jeep Cherokee. It’s perfect for him – if he moves the seat all the way back, leaving just enough room for him and his new pup, Joker.

“You can’t sit behind me,” Sharp said, “unless you’re really short.”

It maintains a laid-back vibe about its size, and the magnifying glass that comes with it, in this city of 73,000 that’s full of old manufacturing plants and strip malls.

As a child growing up about 62 miles west in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, however, Sharp hated the attention his figure drew. He remembers refusing to go to WalMart with his mother because people always came up to them asking questions:

What is your size?
What basketball team do you play for?
How is it up there?

So he started wearing a personalized hoodie that said, “Yeah, I play ball, I’m 7-5 and the weather is nice here.” At the time, Sharp had not fully understood his talents and potential. He was simply a lanky teenager who kept growing.

Between his sophomore and junior year of high school, Sharp grew from 6 feet 5 inches to 7 feet tall. His family knew something was changing, fast, when he started banging his head against ceiling lights in the house that he might have walked under a few months before.

“We were shopping on Black Friday and he was in high school, he was about 7-foot-2,” Sharp’s brother Jaqualis Matlock recalled. “And he was trying to hide from people while we were walking around the mall. And everyone was watching. I said to him, ‘You can’t hide from people. You’re tall. You’re special.’ “

At the time, Sharp had never considered a future in basketball. He disliked sports and considered it a hobby in high school, where he played a limited number of minutes. As his friends talked about the NBA games they watched over the weekend, Sharp was more focused on his drawings. He still enjoys drawing cartoon characters by hand. He was more of an artist than a basketball player, he said.

But then Sharp got soaked. During a high school competitive game, the then 7-foot-tall junior saw the crowd explode after a smaller player rose over the edge and punched him. He then swore to make sure he would never be embarrassed like that again.

“It really changed things, I’m not kidding,” Sharp said. “At the time, I hadn’t thought about it. But looking back, it really changed my life. Because before, I really didn’t take basketball seriously.”

During a stint at Logan College, a junior college in Carterville, Illinois, Sharp began to move into the field. His shot-blocking instincts matured and Division I programs noticed and started calling. Sharp said he chose Western Kentucky because of the relationship he had built with the high school staff, one of the few major conference programs to recruit him at the time.

“[It has been great to see the progress] he’s made of a guy who had no expectations,” Stansbury said. “His sense of the game was much better than we thought. He was very resilient. To my knowledge, he has never missed a practice.”

The relationship has improved the player and the program. Sharp leads the nation in blocks per game (4.3) and in block percentage at 16.6%, meaning he’s blocked 16.6% of opposing teams’ shots inside the bow, according to KenPom. For comparison, Los Angeles Lakers star Anthony Davis finished with a 13.75% block rate in his only season at Kentucky in 2011-12.

In addition to the defensive talent that helped Western Kentucky amass a winning record (14-13), despite two separate five-game losing streaks, Sharp (7.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 65% clip inside the arc) also became a better leader. , according to his teammates. Last year, he admitted, he sulked on the bench every time he made a mistake or missed a mission.

This year, he’s trying to stay positive and cheer his teammates on through tough times.

“From last year to this year, he’s more vocal now,” Hilltoppers guard Dayvion McKnight said. “He’s a lot more comfortable. And it’s going to keep going up from here. I don’t think there’s anyone like that. He’s one of those defenders you worry about before you even get to the rim.”

In El Mazatlan, Sharp tried to be polite and sneak into a booth. He didn’t want to disturb the staff. But a waitress noticed the tight fit and agreed to move her bench and rearrange the seating area to create more room for her.

The Western Kentucky star then stuffed tacos in his mouth, part of a plan to add more weight to his 235-pound frame. He eats six times a day. At its size, it needs fuel.

As he ate, a boy sitting nearby with his parents stared at him. He had the incredulous look of a child who thought that a human being could only be as tall as in a cartoon or a dream.

Sharp noticed, turned to the boy and smiled, acknowledging that he was, in fact, real.

“Even if I go out and don’t do my best like everyone expects, kids still come up to me with a big smile on their face and ask for pictures and autographs,” he said. he declares. “And they tell me I had a good game. It feels good inside.”

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