Elite RB Soso Jamabo shines at Peach Jam; could he be a two-sport star?
Rare is the athlete with the ability -- and offers -- to play high-level football and basketball. But it's something Soso Jamabo is considering.
NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. -- Elite 2016 shooting guard prospect Malik Monk was coming off a brilliant 40-point performance Friday night that had the area buzzing with how dazzling the display was. The slender 6-foot-3 Monk, out of Bentonville, Ark., is near the top of his class. An inconsistent but wowing player, Monk at his best -- cosmetically -- matches anyone else's best among 2015 and 2016 prospects.
He incorporates flash, entertainment, terrific handles, burst and pizzazz. When he gets to college for the 2016-17 season, you'll most likely love watching Monk play.
On Saturday, his encore was highly anticipated. Monk's Arkansas Wings AAU team was playing against the renowned Texas Titans 17-and-under team. The final game of Peach Jam pool play between these two would decide which would move on from group D to elimination/quarterfinals play in the event, which concludes Sunday afternoon.
Monk flunked, scoring two points by half, managing only two more until the final garbage minutes, wherein he finally made just three of the 20 field goals he took all game. The Titans won 70-48 to move on because Monk -- far and away the most talented player on his team -- was unable to shake the player assigned to defend him, a player the coaches in attendance can't really recruit.
"He might not jump as high as Monk or be as an elite player as Monk, but he's as tough as Monk -- probably tougher," Titans coach Scott Pospichal said of his specialist.
That specialist is Sotonie "Soso" Jamabo, and after scoring the final two, winning points for the Titans on Friday night against Southern Stampede (a 63-62 win and the first time he ever won a game by scoring the final points), Jamabo went for 16 points in a game-high 31 minutes against Monk and the Wings.
Jamabo is an elite recruit as well: strong, good pop, quick feet, an obviously superb athlete. Great hands and balance. Tough and fast. Bright and respectful off the court as well. The accolades build up. He's ranked No. 3 in the country at his position and a borderline top-50 national recruit, according to 247Sports.
In football. Soso is something else.
Yes, one of the most consistent players at the Peach Jam over the first three days was a kid who's made basketball his secondary sport long after it was his first love. Jamabo's played organized hoops since he was 7 (and played with the Titans since the third grade). The 17-year-old running back prospect from Plano, Texas, is coveted by pigskin powerhouses Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Alabama -- hell, every Big 12 school, plus many of the biggest SEC ones, and even places out west like UCLA and Oregon.
The juxtaposition of Jamabo's July encapsulates how rare an athlete he is. Few players in the modern era are truly capable of playing basketball and football at a major-conference school. This doesn't happen either because worrisome and power-hungry coaches won't permit a premier athlete to share time playing to major sports at the D-I level, or the player truly can't compete at a big-time school and capably handle being successful in both sports.
But Jamabo has a chance to live as the exception. He's been extremely productive at the Peach Jam less than a week removed from one of the most prestigious high school football events last week, Nike's "The Opening" camp in Oregon. Jamabo made the all-tourney team there.
“He showed out big-time," Pospichal said. “And if an elite basketball college -- he’s a really bright -- and a high-educational school comes in and were to say, 'Come play basketball,' I think Soso would entertain the idea of playing basketball because he loves it."
It would have to be a perfect marriage of coaches and opportunity, so it's anything but a certainty at this point. Jamabo said a few schools have offered, at least informally, the prospect of being allowed to play both. Those schools are Oklahoma (the first school to offer him a scholarship, when he was 16), UCLA, A&M and Baylor.
Jamabo attends Plano West High School, which is now playing 6A -- the newest, highest division in the best football state in the country. As a junior, Jamabo tallied 10 touchdowns and ran for 1,077 yards, averaging a ruthless 8.98 yards per carry throughout the 120 times he was handed the ball in 2013. This month he checked in at 204 pounds and 6 feet, 2.5 inches. He'll only get bigger in the next year.
This summer he's also attended football camps sponsored by Under Armour in Baltimore and Adidas in LA. Nike's was the biggest and was where he played best in both one-on-one drills and in the seven-on-seven tournament.
In hoops, he's playing alongside four-star players Mickey Mitchell (committed to Ohio State), D.J. Hogg and Tyler Davis, and he's arguably been as valuable as any of them over the past 72 hours because Jamabo is the team's elite defender. He took on Monk the way he's taken on plenty of other offensive alphas over the past few years. The Texas Titans have won AAU national championships as sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth-graders (that last one as a 15U team), and it's been as much about Davis' size as Hogg's shooting as Mitchell's leadership as Jamabo's reliable D.
"I'm always guarding the best player on the team," Jamabo said of playing Monk. "I know he's got a great pull-up and can score in several different ways."
Not on Saturday. What a comedown for Monk and boost for Jamabo. Between that defensive performance, the winning free throws Friday night and the 18 points against Team Penny Friday afternoon, Jamabo couldn't help but tempt some coaches who know they've got the big-time football component to potentially -- maybe -- get him to play two sports.
"He’s such an incredible athlete," Pospichal said. "He’s also very articulate, very smart, and now his skill level in basketball is really starting to elevate. So when you see him out there doing that, so if I’m a college basketball coach and I need an athletic 2 guard who can defend and make plays, why wouldn’t I recruit him? He’s an elite basketball player as well."
Whatever school he picks -- likely in February -- it'll be for football and football first. It would be great to have this story of a telegenic two-sport athlete, but Jamabo said he's still got a lot to consider with that before coaches even truly put that offer before him -- and he knows they mean it.
His only scheduled official visit so far is set for Notre Dame on Sept. 6. He does not have a list of finalists yet, and he's not likely to release one any time soon, he told CBSSports.com.
"I mean, I’m pretty damn good at it," Jamabo said when I first met him and asked him if football was the sport of his future. "Football takes a lot of my time, but basketball comes natural."
After this week, the evidence is overwhelming that is true. You'd have to think some of those coaches who saw him on the court will be scheduling conversations with the ones who are envisioning him on the field.
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