Jamaal Tatum was the Missouri Valley Conference Most Valuable Player and leader of a Southern Illinois University Basketball team that went 29-7 and ventured into the hallowed March Madness hardwood known as the Sweet 16. He had been in the City of Sacramento less than 24 hours (after a red-eye flight) when I caught up with the 6’2″ point guard. Upon my arrival to the workout site Tatum was already drenched in a “5th quarter sweat” while tuning up his skills and conditioning while training in a cavernous hoop basketball superplex known as Basketball Town during an arduous morning workout that would suck oxygen out of a ventilator.
Jamaal, who has been invited to the elite NBA Draft Camp in Orlando, Florida is attaining tutelage to enhance his profound basketball resume that is bulleted with haughty honors and four years worth of solid accomplishments. Despite the acclaim and projection as a solid second round choice Tatum has the humility that any parent would be proud of due to his unabashed sincerity.
Yet, lets not get it tangled and twisted, Jamaal’s basketball game’s competitive inferno is visible to all talent evaluators be it laymen or expert. Tatum’s basketball intellect teeming with a telekinetic sense to lead his team to victory is the reason during his 4 year playing career at SIU he enters the 2007 NBA Draft with over a 100 victories tattooed permanently in the SIU record book during his era. If you judge a man by his works Tatum is a winner.
Southern Illinois, known as the Saluki’s, play an awe-inspiring swarming man-to-man defense under Coach Chris Lowery. Typically at the head of the Saluki’s defense for four years and patrolling opposition backcourt personnel from every imaginable possession on the floor was Jamaal Tatum.
Tatum is working out with Professional Basketball Trainer and Pre-Draft Camp Hoops Instructor Guss Armstead. Armstead who has worked out a plethora of backcourt players including current NBA guards such as the Hornets Bobby Jackson, the Supersonics Mike Wilks, and the Timberwolves Troy Hudson has shared the viewpoint that Jamaal Tatum is in the mode of the aforementioned back court personnel and compares favorably to another client long time NBA point guard Kevin Ollie. So what can the training impart on Tatum that is not commonly known after hours of scouting his talents? Armstead says for one thing, “We’ll be working on the retreat dribble.” The repeat dribble you ask? Here what Armstead had to say about the retreat dribble. “Jamaal will be working on moves to help him escape out of double teams off the half court set based on the different scenarios NBA teams run their pick and roll offenses. The retreat dribble allows Jamaal to find spacing so off the pick and roll if a big player steps out on Jamaal he can instinctively build the process to make an effective combo move to keep the offense fluid while maintaining his dribble.”
There are some more nuances that Tatum is working on to morph his game to the NBA way. This is what Armstead shared on some other basketball protein he plans to impart on the talented Tatum. “We’ll be working on shooting floaters and runners so he can express his offensive creativity at the next level. We’ll also be working out full court drills such as NBA scenarios when there is a two for one field goal situation with ball possession and 35 seconds on the game-clock. Additionally Jamaal will be handling offensive situations with 4 seconds on the shot clock off the half-court set, and how to effectively speed dribble in the transition game.”
While Armstead handles the basketball former long time Sacramento Kings strength and conditioning coach Al Biancani will handle the stamina. Biancani who I recently communicated with while he put Sacramento Kings forward Ron Artest thru the rudiments of pumping iron is a no nonsense 21st century Jack LaLanne that Tatum will be receiving tough fitness love from.
So here is Jamaal Tatum the Academic All-American from Jefferson City, Missouri with the 3.6 GPA preparing for a warp speed crash course in his bid to secure a position in the 2007 NBA Draft. The eclectic Tatum who enjoys the conscientious rap grooves of Common and Talib Kweili while favoring no nonsense motion pictures like Gladiator eagerly approaches his whirlwind experience with wide open deference and a fancy for toiling. HoopsAddict.com caught up with a Draft candidate sharing his pursuit of the NBA with our readers. The following interview was conducted at the conclusion of Jamaal Tatum’s initial workout.
HoopsAddict.com: Jamaal what brings you to Sacramento?
Jamaal Tatum: I came out to work out with Guss Armstead so I can be in the right/peak conditioning by Draft camp.
HoopsAddict.com: Southern Illinois came off a great season last year. The team went 29-7 you were the team leader the conference MVP and took a top seed like Kansas to the limit before eventually losing in the Sweet 16. SIU made there “bones” on defense with a ball hawking style. Talk about your role on keeping pressure at the point of attack.
Jamaal Tatum: First of all, in the Kansas game a team that was averaging 80 points a game we held them to 61 points by pressing the Jayhawks the whole game. Our style sought to wear teams down because when fatigue hits not only your skills suffer your mind goes away. Plus I could sense by applying pressure the fear factor would set in because they knew (the opposition) I was never going to let off the pressure.
HoopsAddict.com: Solid points. How do you recognize that opponent fear since you were at the forefront of that hard nose Saluki man-to-man defense?
Jamaal Tatum: Basically I could see good players refuse the ball not wanting to dribble up court. We played against a lot of good players last year and I can remember a game against Butler and they had a good point guard who had 6 turnovers against us and towards the end of the game I sensed he did not want the ball anymore. When he finally received the ball it was towards the end of the game and he turned the ball over again. That’s typically how I sense it when a good player typically does things out of character.
HoopsAddict.com: When you lock up on defense you can slide and pressure baseline to baseline which is rare for a point guard. How do you prepare to play that defensive style. Do you study film or adjust spontaneously on game day?
Jamaal Tatum: We (Southern Illinois) played man-to-man defense and no zone in my four years. Typically if I played against a player I know his style but my way is to feel them out as I go against them. I make adjustments such as if a guard is fast but out of control I give them a step so I can closeout on the shot or when the dribble is picked up. The fast player I also constantly jab at with the right distance. If a point guard is slow but can dribble I like to crowd their space and force turnovers. Our defensive philosophy at SIU was not to go for steals off the dribble, we want to force bad passes and bad dribbles while constantly being in the other team’s face.
HoopsAddict.com: So you were the team leader on both offense and defense. Talk about your leadership role at SIU?
Jamaal Tatum: I was a senior and had been in the system for 4 years. I knew what Coach wanted me to do and I knew it was important for me not to try going crazy on both offense and defense. Like trying for steals on defense or forcing shots on offense I had to be in control and keep cool. Our offensive style was not to run at every chance we wanted a slow grind it out game. We wanted a blue-collar game. My thing was to be solid in the defensive end and come back down and be a leader on the offensive end getting my team in there sets and basically do whatever it takes. I had to be the anchor. Coach always told me, “Be the anchor.”
HoopsAddict.com: So you don’t cower under adversity…
Jamaal Tatum: No way.
HoopsAddict.com: How does your acquired skills translate to the next level?
Jamaal Tatum: I think being in a winning program with an emphasis on defense and being in school for 4 years with over 100 wins – not many players in college ball can say that. NBA teams know with me their going to get a proven winner. Definitely getting a winner. I know the game I know what it takes and I can’t say that about every player on the next level. My emphasis is winning and I can give up personal glory for winning. I do not put anything else above winning.
HoopsAddict.com: That’s outstanding. You went to an NBA scouting review tournament in Portsmouth this year. Talk about your Portsmouth participation and what you learned.
Jamaal Tatum: I realized even at Portsmouth how good the talent is at an All-Star type situation. I put myself in a mindset where I was amongst athletic players where I did not have the burden of doing everything. I did not have to be an offensive threat. All I had to do was get the team in the offense and we went to the Championship game at Portsmouth with me averaging 12 or 13 points a game. I distributed the ball and averaged either 8 or 9 assists a game. My thing was I’m going to pressure the ball full court, I’m going to make the other point guard tired, I’m going to make him make bad decisions, and on offense I’m going to get the outlet pass push the ball and look for my teammates. Because by playing at Portsmouth I did not have to be a scoring threat because talented players surrounded me. I took the knowledge from Portsmouth as a way to play with NBA players.
HoopsAddict.com: Wise approach. I know Gus mentioned you’re working on runners and floaters to get you that NBA in traffic shot off penetration. Do you have those shots in your game?
Jamaal Tatum: Those shots I did not have to shoot in college. I know that now I’ll be facing more athletic people in the NBA and that all 15-roster players in the NBA can really play. The NBA athletes are on the team for a reason so I’m in Sacramento to improve on every aspect of my game. Incorporating floaters and runners are one of those things I’m going to have to do. The one-foot floater the 2-foot runner can only make me more productive.
HoopsAddict.com: Southern Illinois has had some excellent players over the years and my perspective is you’re the best guard prospect to come out of SIU since Walt “Clyde” Frazier.
Jamaal Tatum: Wow! I appreciate that man. I really appreciate that compliment. I never would have imagined as a senior in High school that I would have the chance to make it in the NBA. I never imagined also that I would have as great a collegiate career. I realize it was hard work that got me here so I’m going to continue to work hard.
HoopsAddict.com: Sweat equity has its rewards. Back to SIU, you played in a system that could play up tempo but preferred to pace the game using your words, “A grind it out style.” Now in the NBA a plethora of teams prefer an up tempo style. At the collegiate level you played fast break teams and slowed them down so you have wisdom from the defensive side of the ball in handling swift opposition . Therefore can you accustom your game in a fast break offensive philosophy?
Jamaal Tatum: I can adjust to any system. I’m an intelligent player both on and off the court and your question is a life question. Everybody has to adjust to various situations in life if they are athletes are not. I know that any situation I’m involved with I’m going to have to adjust. I know the NBA is going to be a learning period and a growing period so I’m willing to meet difficulties patiently. I have the athletic ability, intelligence, and confidence feeling I can deal with the situations in front of me.
HoopsAddict.com: I hear you. So you’re from Jefferson City, Missouri.
Jamaal Tatum: I just left there. I hung with my Mother on Mother’s day and had a good time while at home.
HoopsAddict.com: Do you pattern your game after any one player?
Jamaal Tatum: I feel like I’m just me. I like a lot of players and respect their game and have learned from watching player’s but I’m just me.
HoopsAddict.com: I get it. You’re the first Jamaal Tatum.
Jamaal Tatum: That’s what I know best.
HoopsAddict.com: Your time and candor is appreciated and we here at HoopsAddict.com wish you well.
Jamaal Tatum: Likewise. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to share. It’s been an honor.