INDIANAPOLIS – It’s easy to spot the parents in the bleachers lining court six at the Best Choice Fieldhouse during a spring stop on the Under Armour Association circuit.
They’re usually the ones shouting directions to their sons playing for Team Breakdown or Team Rio in a Saturday evening game.
But not the 6-foot-8 former NBA All-Star leaning against a wall just beyond one baseline.
If you didn’t look at the Team Breakdown roster, you might not even realize former Kentucky star Jamal Mashburn has a son with the same name playing in the game.
“I’m just the navigation in the car, I’m not the engine,” Mashburn Sr. said when reached by phone a few days after watching his son score at least 20 points in all four of his games in Indianapolis. “I’m just helping him pursue a particular path that I’ve been down and experienced. That’s the best way that I can help him. He’s going to have to live that experience, not me.”
Mashburn Jr. is well on the way to carving out his own basketball reputation.
The 247Sports Composite, which averages the ratings of the three major recruiting services, ranks him as a top-100 prospect and the No. 6 combo guard in the 2020 class. Harvard, Florida, Florida State and Miami have already offered the four-star Miami high schooler.
Playing an age group up, the 16-year-old Mashburn is averaging 19.9 points and two assists per game while shooting 35.2 percent from 3-point range on the UAA 17-and-under circuit.
He ranks seventh in the entire league in scoring.
“I want to be the No. 1 guard in the country, so just working on everything,” Mashburn Jr. said after scoring 26 points on 9-of-18 shooting in a game against a Team Rio squad that featured two five-star 2019 wing players. “… I’m 16, I’m playing up, so you’ve got to be able to finish high, you’ve got to be able to do other things.”
Despite his father’s star turn at Kentucky and 12-year NBA career, Mashburn Jr. came to basketball later than some of his peers.
His first sports were baseball and lacrosse. It wasn’t until age 10 that Mashburn Jr. approached his father with a request to try out for a youth basketball team.
“I didn’t want to have him have that pressure of playing basketball and stuff like that until he knew that was something he wanted to do, so I kept it away from him,” Mashburn Sr. said.
Mashburn Jr. made the team, but during the car ride home from the tryout he was still unhappy.
“He’s like, ‘Those kids are better than me, can you help me?’” Mashburn Sr. said.
Since then, father has turned coach, working to impart many of the lessons he learned throughout his basketball career to give the son a leg up on the competition.
Listed at a generous 6-foot-2 on the Team Breakdown roster, Mashburn Jr. so far lacks his father’s size but has shown the ability to score at will from the perimeter against older players this spring. He earned first-team all-state honors in Florida as a sophomore at Gulliver Prep in Miami.
“He’s really almost at the high school level kind of mastered the mid-range game,” Team Breakdown coach Kenny Gillion said. “… If he doesn’t grow any more he still has the game to be a really good player, but if he grows then it will become really scary.”
Developing a mid-range game was an early goal Mashburn Sr. placed for his son, a lesson learned from his NBA days. An emphasis on defense has paid dividends already as he develops into a two-way player, though Mashburn Sr. acknowledges his son still has work to do as a distributor.
“I don’t think he’ll ever be a true point guard because he scores the ball so well, but having the balance of when to pass, when to shoot,” the father said. “He’s getting that part of it.”
Could Mashburn Jr. play for Louisville or Kentucky?
There’s still hope for Mashburn Jr. to grow several more inches in his two remaining years of high school, but given his early success it’s no surprise guard play is an early point of focus in his college decision.
“I look at a school like Villanova: They have great guard play, they push tempo,” Mashburn Jr. said. “I’m a fast, up-tempo guard, so anything with guard play is going to be a right fit for me.”
Mashburn Jr. is still waiting on the offers from powerhouse programs like Villanova to arrive.
Thanks to the family’s strong relationship with Rick Pitino, who coached Mashburn Sr. at Kentucky, Louisville was at least publicly considered a strong favorite to land Mashburn Jr. while Pitino was still coaching there.
Mashburn Jr., who said he models his game after former Louisville guard Donovan Mitchell, still keeps in contact with Pitino, but the ties to Louisville have lessened. The family does not know Louisville coach Chris Mack personally, but Mashburn Sr. refused to rule out any school in his son’s recruitment.
“I even made the comment to Coach Pitino when we took our unofficial visit there was that there’s no guarantee he’s going to play for you or the University of Louisville when he was there,” Mashburn Sr. said. “He’s earned the right to be recruited. I think a lot of people just made the leap that he was going to go to the University of Louisville because of my relationship. That kid has put a lot of work into it. He earned the right to be recruited. That’s the bottom line.”
The question of whether Kentucky, where Mashburn Sr. still ranks sixth on the program’s career scoring list, eventually pursues Mashburn Jr. is also uncertain.
UK coach John Calipari tends to wait to offer scholarships to players until later in their high school careers, given the uncertain nature of his roster turnover each season, and he has not yet reached out to the family. Mashburn Sr. retains close ties to the university and city of Lexington, where he owns a stake in several businesses, but said he is not very familiar with the ins and outs of Calipari’s program.
“If it’s the right fit for him, no matter if I went there or not, then that’s an option that he has to go with,” Mashburn Sr. said. “One thing about my son is my son is not like other kids where he’s afraid of a legacy. It’s almost motivation for him.
“… If it happens at the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville, who knows, Indiana, Duke or whatever it is, it has to be the right fit for him. It’s not going to be based upon what I’ve accomplished or that particular legacy at a particular program.”
His son agrees.
“I’m hoping with the way I’m playing right now, with my high-level work ethic and my competitive spirit I could get some offers from Kentucky, all the big-name schools, Duke, all the big SEC, ACC schools everybody wants to go to,” Mashburn Jr. said.
‘The basketball stops bouncing for everybody’
Ask Mashburn Jr. about the schools currently recruiting him, and Harvard is the first he mentions.
That’s no coincidence.
Mashburn Sr. has thrived in the business world since his basketball career ended in 2006, at one point including ownership stakes in 38 Outback Steakhouse, 40 Papa John’s and three Dunkin Donuts franchises and two car dealerships in his portfolio. He established a scholarship at UK for Lexington-area students and also has served on the board of several philanthropic organizations.
Mashburn Jr. was too young to watch much of his dad’s basketball career but has been on hand for the business success.
“For him, academics, and for me, academics are very, very important because the ball stops bouncing for everybody, I don’t care who you are,” Mashburn Sr. said. “I think we’re all aware of that. He’s seen that firsthand, he’s seen some of my teammates in difficult positions. Some of them went on to be successful, but he’s been around me long enough to know that’s very important.”
Those interests outside of basketball make his dedication to the sport all the more noteworthy.
“He’s not coming from a particular environment that I came from where I had to make certain choices and play basketball,” Mashburn Sr. said. “J doesn’t have to play basketball. He doesn’t have to. He’s one of those kids where he wants to and he has a desire and a burning, competitive desire to go out there and play.”
Forging his own legacy
Mashburn Jr. still has plenty of time to make his college decision.
And while his father is purposely hands-off during games and team practices, that won’t be the case as college coaches begin to show more interest.
What is the program’s style of play? What is the coach’s resume? Would he prefer a brighter spotlight at a powerhouse program or a dimmer one at a program he might help build a legacy? Urban environment or college town?
Those are all questions Mashburn Sr. asked himself when Pitino was able to convince him to sign with Kentucky despite little previous knowledge of the program as a kid. They’re questions he will now remind his son to consider.
And then there’s the most important question of all: What is Mashburn Jr.’s end goal and which program can best get him there?
“As much as the circuit and basketball has changed, the core of it has not changed,” Mashburn Sr. said. “The recruiting process has not changed. It’s all about relationships. It’s all about truth, it’s all about honesty, it’s all about understanding, trying to draw out the truth in some of these coaches.”
The Mashburn family experience with high-level basketball will likely pay off for Mashburn Jr. as he continues to grow into his own game, but for now, the father is content to let the son learn from his own mistakes on the court.
When Mashburn Sr. attends games or practices, Gillion has to seek him out to ask questions if he wants input from the former NBA All-Star on the sideline. Otherwise, he is as anonymous as most of the less famous parents on the team.
Mashburn Jr’s teammates treat him like a normal teenager because, like him, they’re too young to know much about his dad’s career. Mashburn Jr.’s primary lessons about his dad, the basketball player, have come from YouTube clips and Google.
His conclusion has been simple: Be better than his father.
Jerseys from Kentucky and Mashburn Sr.’s professional stops in Dallas, Miami, Charlotte, New Orleans and Philadelphia line the walls of the Mashburn home. Embracing his son’s competitive nature, Mashburn Sr. has challenged Jr. to replace those jerseys with his own.
He’s accomplished the task once already, relegating one of his father’s jerseys to storage.
Mashburn Sr. hopes it is just the first of many to come.
“One day people won’t even be referencing me,” Mashburn Sr. said. “They’ll be referencing the Jr. part, and he might even take the Jr. off and just become Jamal Mashburn and they won’t even know I existed. That would be my dream.”