SEASIDE, Calif. — Two minutes and 17 seconds after entering Sunday’s game against LIU-Brooklyn, University of San Francisco sophomore Jamaree Bouyea let fly with a three off the catch in the right corner.
Over 100 miles from where the game was originally supposed to be played, in a game moved with two days’ notice, in a Cal State Monterey Bay gym one-fifth the capacity of the Dons’ Sobrato Center, Bouyea’s jumper brought both sets of packed bleachers to their feet.
“I grew up here,” Bouyea said. “I used to watch my older brother here. I’m used to the gym. Everyone, friends, family, people that I know are here, it’s just an amazing atmosphere.”
While it was Charles Minlend Jr. who lit up the scoreboard — overpowering even the LIU-Brooklyn’s post players down low and scoring 20 in the 84-52 win — it was Bouyea, who finished with six points, that got the biggest ovations at a gymnasium just 1.5 miles from his childhood home.
“I never thought I’d play in my hometown,” Bouyea said. “I never thought I’d play in this gym.”
It literally took a natural disaster for Bouyea to return to the gym where he grew up. The Camp fire in Butte County — the deadliest fire in state history — caused so much smoke and ash to be propelled into the atmosphere that air quality in and around San Francisco has ranged from unhealthy to downright hazardous for the past 10 days. So, the Dons moved their Sunday tilt against the Blackbirds 100 miles south.
Bouyea was sitting at point guard Frankie Ferrari’s house when he found out. Ferrari sent him a link to the athletic department’s tweet, and Bouyea forwarded it to his mother, Lawanda, and his former high school coach, Kelley Lopez. He soon received over 100 messages.
“Sometimes, things happen for a reason,” Lopez said. “We were finishing off practice Thursday night, and I don’t have my phone on me during practice, but had an Apple Watch on, and he sent me a screen shot. I couldn’t focus the last 20 minutes of practice.”
Lawanda quickly organized a massive rooting section, which saw over 100 friends, family, former teammates and well-wishers at the game. Palma alone had upwards of 30 active players in the stands.
“Eighty-five percent of this crowd is here to see him,” said Bouyea’s AAU coach Jason Hieb. “It’s special [having him back]. Jamaree is a very talented young man. I’ve known him his whole life. Basketball has been his dedication. It’s great to see him come home.”
Starting in sixth grade, Bouyea and his older brother Jonquis — who was walk-on at Monterey Bay — would come into the Kelp Bed after Thanksgiving dinner and work out. It continued through high school.
“Every Thanksgiving, we’d come here after dinner, at midnight, come play one-on-one, and in eighth grade, I finally beat him,” Bouyea said. “Ever since then, that’s my favorite moment here.”
During the basketball season, he would come to the gym regularly and work with his brother after practice, and play against some of his college teammates.
“Whenever he could get in here, he would shoot here,” Lawanda said. “He’d play open gym with his brother’s college team, whenever he could. Whenever he could, he’d always be practicing with college kids, even when he was in high school. He’s as good as he is because he wanted to be like his brothers.”
The Monterey Herald All-County Player of the Year in his junior and senior year, Bouyea wound up being very clearly a Division I player, destined for bigger gyms than the Kelp Bed.
“His goal was to play D-1 basketball,” Lawanda said. “He wanted to put in more work because he wanted to go to D-1. He realized how hard his brother had to work to play here.”
The summer before Bouyea’s sophomore year, when he was in Georgia for an AAU tournament with Seaside’s Finest, and his team was down by five. He picked up his dribble four feet beyond the 3-point line, and hit only air. The opposing team laughed and clapped in his face. He went on to score 17 straight points.
“Midway through his sophomore year, you knew that, athletically, he was there,” said Lopez, who still coaches Palma, 11 minutes away by car. “I was just waiting him to mentally be ready for it. It clicked in our first-round playoff game.”
In the 2015 Division IV state playoffs, Bouyea scored 27 points in a 69-64 win over Sacramento-West Campus, hitting five 3-pointers. He’d scored 33 in his previous three games, combined.
“I thought, ‘Alright, he’s got that next gear, when he needs it,'” Lopez said.
As a junior at Palma, Bouyea led his team to a state Division IV championship appearance, averaging 18 points per game earning Second Team Division IV MaxPreps All-State Team honors.
“He was definitely the most important player, and by far the best player in the league,” said Peyton Seelye, who played on varsity with Bouyea for two years.
As a senior, he led them back to the state Division IV semifinals, averaging 19.1 points and 6.1 assists per game.
“He was the main reason we played for a state championship, and played in the state semifinals the next year,” Lopez said. “He was a star, but he didn’t carry himself that way. He likes his close group of friends and family, and he treats everybody with respect. In this day and age where a guy is a little bit more confident and putting himself out there, he’s very calm, keeps to himself.”
San Francisco head coach Kyle Smith has likened Bouyea to another Palma product, former St. Mary’s guard E.J. Rowland, who has played overseas since 2006, but was in attendance on Sunday. Even with Rowland and former UCLA and Hawaii guard/forward Noah Allen in Palma’s background, Lopez says Bouyea has been even more important to the program.
“I’ve been around the program, I played there and have been around as a coach in some form for 12, 13 years, and we’ve had some really good players,” Lopez said. “Jamaree is just a little different, in the way he carries himself, and the way he plays the game.”
On Sunday, as he walked in to the gym where he honed his game, where his brother Jonquis played his college basketball, in a shirt and slacks, with the rest of the Dons men’s basketball team on Sunday afternoon, Bouyea was all business. There was no wide-eyed look, no hanging jaw.
He’d not only practiced in the Kelp Bed, and not only played one-on-one with his brother, but he’d played AAU games there, too.
“Jamaree just got off every single game,” Seelye said. “It was pretty normal, especially practicing with him. It was just pretty normal.”
Even as the game got out of hand, Bouyea was focused. With just under three minutes left, Bouyea cut under the basket and fired into the corner for a Jordan Ratinho 3-pointer, putting the Dons up 76-48. In 25 minutes, he pulled down five rebounds, dished out one assist, went 2-of-4 from the floor and helped space out the San Francisco offense.
“Seeing him play college games here, it’s amazing,” Lawana said. “My heart is beating really fast right now.”
Lawanda was born and raised in the Monterey-Seaside-Salinas area, so both of her parents were able to make the game, along with Jonquis. So, too, did a host of Bouyea’s former teammates, who took up a section behind the Dons’ bench.
As he entered the game with 16:29 to go in the first half, he got a standing ovation. Two minutes later, he hit his three.
“I expected it from him,” said friend and former Palma teammate Garrett Maker, who played on varsity with Bouyea for three years. “That’s Jamaree.”