Incredible Dunking has come back to Sacramento
by Nicholas Lozito
When most people lace up a pair of Jordan’s and take the court, they only “wanna be like Mike.”
Sacramento State’s Jameel Pugh on the other hand is often compared to the Chicago Bull great. Well, at least when it comes to dunking a basketball.
Pugh was tabbed the “World’s Greatest Dunker” by Slam magazine following his senior year at Sacramento’s Grant Union High School. Three years later, as a sophomore at the University of Massachusetts, he was ranked the No. 33 dunker of all-time by Slam.
Pugh was the second college basketball player selected in top-50 all-time dunkers list; James “Flight” White, now a sophomore at Florida was selected at No. 24.
“Being nominated to the 50 greatest dunkers was great,” Pugh said. “Everyone was so surprised and shocked, considering I hadn’t gotten the chance to show what I can do (while at Massachusetts).”
After averaging just 11.4 minutes and 5.3 points his sophomore year at Massachusetts last season, Pugh has transferred back to Sacramento to play for the Hornets. The Oakland, California native felt that he was better suited for Sac State’s fast-paced style of basketball, where he could make better use of his superior athleticism and dunking ability.
Pugh emerged onto the Northern California basketball scene in his junior year of high school. After being cut his sophomore season at Washington High School in Fremont, Calif., Pugh transferred to Grant High, where he led the Pacers to the state championship game his senior year.
Over the following summer, Pugh made a trip with his AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) summer team to France, where he won a slam dunk contest within his age group. Among Pugh’s competition was a seven-foot center from Nigeria.
And the legend had begun.
“It amazes me how many people have heard about some of the teams I’ve played for, or some of the dunk contests I’ve been in,” Pugh said. ” It’s almost like folklore.”
Pugh says the best dunk he’s ever pulled off was in practice, when he tossed the ball off the backboard, caught it in mid-air, and put it between his legs before throwing it in the net. The 6-foot-4, 225 pound shooting guard also performs Vince Carter’s elbow-in-the-rim dunk with ease.
Pugh has drawn many comparisons to Carter, but he models himself after his favorite player Dominique Wilkins, who was 30 slots ahead of Pugh at No. 3 on Slam’s list.
While the junior transfer embraces all his dunk accolades, he feels that the time has come to prove that there is more to his game than just rim-rattling.
“Right now I feel people have only seen a small portion of what I can do,” Pugh said. “It’s kind of scary knowing that people haven’t seen the best parts of my game.
“Every time I’ve been given time on the court I’ve produced.”
Unfortunately, Pugh will have to wait until the 2003-04 season before he can produce for the Hornets. NCAA regulations require that D-I transfers must sit out one season.
The No. 33 dunker of all time is also currently nursing a tear in his patella tendon, which is keeping him off the court until January of 2003.
Meanwhile, Pugh has been helping Hornet coach Jerome Jenkins with recruiting.
“Jameel is a big part of why recruits are coming to Sac State,” Jenkins said. “I am really pleased that he wants to be a host and take the recruits out.”
Pugh has also been working in the weight room, a place he has almost made a second home since coming out of high school. Since his days at Grant High, where he weighed 190 pounds, the Hornet guard has added 35 pounds of muscle.
“At 225 pounds in college, I feel I can impose my will on anyone who is guarding me,” he said.
While Pugh might be confident in his individual abilities, getting a Sacramento State squad that has gone 14-41 over the past two seasons on the winning track will be a tougher task.
“The goal I have for this team is to win a league championship and advance as far as possible in the NCAA tournament,” Pugh said. “I think this team can beat top-level teams.”
Jenkins feels Pugh’s dunking reputation, coupled with his experience at Massachusetts, will make the guard a big part of what the Hornet coach feels is a new era for Hornet basketball.
“What you can expect from Jameel is a player getting up and down the court, and bringing some excitement to Sacramento,” Jenkins said.