Thursday, July 17, 2008
Nabors starring on basketball court at Lamar University
By BARRY BURLESON
Justin “Jay” Nabors has a new nickname at Lamar University. It’s “Grasshopper.”
That’s because he’s the Cardinals’ best leaper. As a junior the 6-6, 215-lb. forward was second on the team in rebounding, 6.4 per game, and he led the Southland Conference in offensive rebounds, 3.1 per game. He was also Lamar’s third leading scorer, averaging 11.2 points per game, and dunks were common.
Not bad for a young man who grew up thinking baseball was going to be his sport. He played in the Holly Springs summer league. Then in high school coach Naylond Hayes introduced him to basketball.
“He got me started,” Nabors said. “He knew my mother (Elouise) and he saw how much I had grown. I thought I’d be a baseball player, but Coach Hayes pulled me away from it, and I’m happy. Basketball has gotten me this far, and I’ve grown to love it.”
Nabors made the team at Holly High but really didn’t see much playing time until his junior season. He was a starter as a senior. Both those seasons – 2003-04 and 2004-05 – the Hawks won the Class 3A state championship.
He originally signed with Mississippi Valley State but the coach left. So he took Coach Hayes’ advice and went to nearby Northwest Community College.
“He knew I needed more experience, and at Northwest my career took off,” Nabors said.
There he helped lead the Rangers to a region championship. He started as a freshman as a sophomore he led the team in scoring, field goal percentage and rebounding.
“I got most every award you could get in junior college,” a modest Nabors said.
He moved on to Lamar, largely because that’s where Don Skelton, one of his coaches at Northwest, had moved to as an assistant coach.
“I give a lot of credit for my success on the basketball court to Coach Hayes and Coach Skelton,” Nabors said.
Last season the Cardinals finished 19-11 overall and 13-3 in the conference. They won a share of the Southland Conference crown, and on a holiday trip home last week Nabors was showing off his latest championship ring.
“The guys (at Lamar) are all on the same page,” he said. “We have one goal, and that’s to win. I think we can be better this year. I think we will be a faster-paced team. We have a lot of guys who can shoot the outside shot. I think we will be an all-around solid team.”
One of those players who can nail the outside shot is another former Holly Springs Hawk, Kenny Dawkins. He went west and played for a junior college in Arizona before signing with Lamar.
“Having Kenny there with me is great,” Nabors said. “We got away from each other for a couple of years. But now he’s better, and I’m better, and we’re growing up together.”
Dawkins was the team’s leading scorer last season, and he and Nabors will have to really step up and be team leaders in 2008-09. That’s because the other three top scorers – including Hickory Flat’s Lamar Sanders and H.W. Byers’ Currye Todd – graduated.
“The (Division I) game is much faster,” Nabors said. “And it’s a lot more physical. Everyone is as big as you are and as talented as you are. You have to work hard and give it your all.”
Coach Skelton has left Lamar to become the head coach at Jones County Junior College in Ellisville.
“He called me right after school was out and told me he was leaving, and it hurt me,” Nabors said. “But he told me, “It will be OK. Stay there and play.’ Coach Skelton was my father away from home.”
But Nabors said Steve Roccaforte, head coach of the Cardinals, “has taken me under his wing, and I have nothing to worry about.”
He left Holly Springs, heading back to Beaumont, Texas, on Wednesday of last week. More summer conditioning was on his schedule.
A tough conference slate awaits this season, plus non-conference games against such schools as Memphis, Kentucky and Texas Tech.
“I think we will be on ESPN some this year,” said Nabors, with a big smile.
“We’ve set some goals – like 20 or more wins and making the NCAA Tournament – and while others are resting, we’re working,” Nabors said. “Making the NCAA Tournament would be a dream come true.”
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