Some See Gwathmey As Dukes’ First Dunker
Posted: February 26, 2013
HARRISONBURG — A fantasy version of Jazmon Gwathmey’s first dunk might go something like this: In a tight game at the Convocation Center, against a rival, the James Madison guard/forward gets free on a fast break and goes up, one-handed, for something that would make Julius Erving jealous. The assembled fans stand and roar, the pep band plays, the Dukes win dramatically, etc.
Gwathmey’s version is more cautious.
“I wouldn’t do it if it was a close game because, if I missed, Coach Brooks would probably take me out,” said Gwathmey, sitting outside the Convo weight room Monday afternoon. “But, if we had a 25-30 lead, yeah, I would try it.”
JMU coach Kenny Brooks said he does not think a player has ever dunked during a game in Madison women’s basketball history. Shelia Moorman, who coached the Dukes from 1982-97 said 6-foot-5 Maryland transfer Carolin Dehn-Duhr dunked, two-handed, frequently in practice and pre-game during the 1998-99 season – but never in an actual game.
Gwathmey might be the first to accomplish that feat.
Gwathmey is a rangy 6-2 with a pterodactyl wingspan. The redshirt freshman from Liberty (Bealeton) High School can already grab the rim by jumping straight up under the basket and is just nanometers away from dunking one-handed. Right now, she finishes with a finger roll.
“I think she needs a tiny bit more ups,” Dukes junior guard Kirby Burkholder said. “She’s close now. She can get rim. I always tell her to dunk, like, every day in practice.”
Gwathmey is working on the ups. Brooks said leg strength will be a focus of her offseason conditioning (as will 3-point shooting), and Gwathmey thinks that, by the time she’s a fifth-year senior, an actual in-game dunk will be feasible.
Meanwhile, Gwathmey is a perfectly functional non-dunking women’s basketball player. Afforded more minutes because of Nikki Newman’s broken foot and Jasmine Gill leaving the team, Gwathmey has taken advantage of her opportunity and is emerging as an all-around, super-athletic threat for the Dukes (18-9 overall, 12-3 in the Colonial Athletic Association).
She is averaging 5.6 points and 4.8 rebounds in 20.3 minutes per game, and, after redshirting last year because of an unspecified medical issue that cost her the 2011-12 preseason and the first month of practice, she’s found a flow.
Gwathmey scored a career-high 17 points against Towson last Thursday and went 8-of-8 from the field, falling one field goal shy of the JMU record for consecutive makes. Vicki Harris went 9-for-9 against William & Mary on March 4, 1989.
Newman’s injury also has forced Gwathmey to play out of position at power forward. Naturally a small forward, Gwathmey has adapted to battling wider, stronger players.
“Playing the four, I’m quicker than most fours,” said Gwathmey, who picked JMU over, notably, Georgetown and Richmond, committing before her junior year of high school. “I can get to the basket faster than them; I can jump higher than them; I can shoot better than them. It’s definitely something I’ve gotten used to.”
When you ask anyone about Gwathmey, it always seems to come back to her athleticism and the fact that she can make the common look remarkable. And there’s always that dunk potential.
“When she’s on, her game is beautiful,” Brooks said. “… Some of the things she does, it’s just jaw-dropping. There’s going to be a time, you mark my words — there’s going to be a time before her career’s over when she’s gonna get a fast break and she might — I don’t know if she’ll throw it down, but it’s going to look like she’s throwing it down, because she gets her hands over the top of the rim, and it’s very impressive.”
Brooks even compared Gwathmey to Tamera Young, who was taken eighth overall in the 2008 WNBA draft by the then-expansion Atlanta Dream. Young, JMU’s second all-time leading scorer, now plays for the Chicago Sky.
Brooks said the difference right now between Gwathmey and Young is strength. Gwathmey is a spindly 165 pounds, and Brooks said Young played at 175 and most of that was in her legs, which allowed her to score in contact and rebound against bigger post players.
“She shoots the ball better than Tamera; she jumps off one leg higher than Tamera,” Brooks said of Gwathmey. “But Tamera is stronger; Tamera is more fierce and Tamera is more determined — Tamera’s meaner. So that’s what makes Tamera Tamera. If Jaz gets some of those qualities, I think she has a chance to be a very good player.”
Gwathmey, realizing their styles are alike, even sought out Young to ask her for advice, and she’s talked to Young as recently as this month. Gwathmey said she knows she and Young are different players.
“I’m never going to be Tamera, but it’s nice for, you know, for Coach Brooks — especially a head coach — to tell you that you’re compared to one of the greatest players [at JMU],” Gwathmey said. “[A player] that’s played in the WNBA, that’s played overseas. That’s just bigger goals for me to get better and eventually play in the WNBA.”
Gwathmey said those goals don’t include dunking.
“It would be exciting, but it’s not the No. 1 priority, obviously,” she said.
That doesn’t mean she’s not thinking about a dunk. She’s analyzed what it would take and what’s holding her back. Right now, it’s that extra teeny bit on her vertical and her small hands, which keep her from totally palming the ball.
“I have small feet and hands,” she said with a laugh. “It’s hard for me to get the ball over the rim and grab the rim at the same time. But I’m getting there. I’m working on my legs.”