Then & Now: Jamar Johnson
Compiled By Dave Brandon
(Photo Courtesy Jamar Johnson)
Jamar Johnson played at Nebraska
from 1992-1994, and was the starting point-guard on
three NCAA Tournament teams. Individually, Johnson
finished his Nebraska career in the top ten of several
categories, including assists, three-point field goals
made, and free-throw percentage.
Johnson recently joined HHC for
this Sunday’s version of “Then & Now."
HHC: Hey JJ, welcome
to Husker Hoops Central, and thanks for taking the time
to chat with us.
JJ: No problem, it’s
a pleasure for me to do this.
HHC: You are one of the most heralded
recruits in Nebraska basketball history, as you came to
NU after finishing runner up for Mr. Basketball in the
state of Indiana to former Indiana Hoosier star Damon
Bailey. What brought you clear to Nebraska from “God’s
JJ: You know, at the
time, I had a really good relationship with one of the
assistant coaches, Len Mitchem. He was from South Bend,
Indiana, so basically my hometown. So I knew that if I
came to Nebraska, I would have a good opportunity to
play early on. Coach Nee and I also had a good
relationship, and still do to this day, although we
don’t talk as much as we used to. But, I’ll still talk
to him every now and again, and he sure was one of a
kind, what can I say; He was a New Yorker, man. (Laughs)
HHC: We love that guy. So tell us, is high
school basketball really as big in the state of Indiana
as Hoosiers portrays it?
JJ: When I was in
high school, it definitely was. But now, they went to a
different class system, and I think that it kind of took
some of the Hoosier hysteria away from Indiana
basketball. So, from talking to people back home, it’s
not the same as it was when I was growing up.
HHC: Your first season at Nebraska was
during that amazing run in 1990-1991, but you took a
redshirt. Was it difficult having to sit and watch that
year, or did you take it as more of a learning
experience and a chance to just sit back and enjoy the
ride like the rest of us?
JJ: Both, actually,
because as a player, it’s always difficult when you have
to sit out and watch. You want to be in there and be a
part of the team and play, and do all the things
everybody else is doing. Not only that, but it was the
best year the University has ever had, team wise, in
basketball. I mean, talk about pure talent, you had Beau
Reid, Rich King, Tony Farmer, Cliff Scales, Keith Moody,
Carl Hayes, Dapreis Owens… Those guys took a beating for
like three, four, five years, and that year was my first
on campus, and those guys were just flat out tired of
losing. And for me, coming from Indiana basketball, that
was exactly the attitude that I was accustomed to be
being around, so it was a great experience for me.
I think that as a freshman, it’s
always important to have good seniors, because they set
the tone as far as leadership goes. I just thought that
Beau Reid’s toughness, along with Scales and King, were
just great - they were ballplayers that physically had
it all, but also mentally were totally there.
HHC: Your first
season on the court at Nebraska was 1991-1992, and you
guys won 19 games and made a second straight NCAA
tournament. But, the most memorable part of that year
was “the shot.” Walk us through the buzzer beater you
hit to beat then #3 Kansas in the overtime game in
Lincoln, which might go down as the biggest shot in
Nebraska basketball history.
JJ: You know, what
can I say about it…It is not only the biggest shot in
Nebraska history, but probably the biggest shot in my
history, too. It’s definitely the shot as a kid, in the
park or driveway, you dream of, with doing the
countdown…It was just the dream shot.
The thing about it I remember the
most, and that people don’t realize, is that that whole
play was a broken down play. The play was actually
designed for Eric Piatkowski, but I think everybody in
the Devaney Center and on the Kansas bench knew where
the ball was going. So, I saw a seam, and saw an opening
in the corner, and I broke for it, and Carl Hayes threw
me the ball, and I just let it go.
HHC: Did you know it
JJ: You know what,
when I released it, it felt good. I just remember
getting off a real jump shot, and everybody thought that
I just threw it up there, but when you go back, as I
have many times, (laughs) it was a real jump shot. I
think there was .7 seconds on the clock, and it was just
an awesome shot.
Every time I talk about that shot,
I remind myself of this, too, and too mention it. But,
there was a guy years ago that sent me a picture of that
shot, which you have here on my profile. It’s just an
amazing, amazing picture. At the time I got it, I was
playing with the Omaha Racers, and the guy actually came
up and introduced himself to me and told me he sent me
that picture. And, I didn’t have time to talk to him, as
I had to get on the bus, but every time I talk about the
shot, I have to thank him.
And, to this day, I want to meet
him again, and I’m hoping that someday we’ll have the
opportunity to meet each other, and talk about the
picture and the good old days. But, that’s a thank you
HHC: Do a lot of
people still ask you about “the shot” to this day?
JJ: Every time I’m in Nebraska, I hear
about it. My last visit was four or five months ago, and
I was at the airport waiting for my luggage. A gentleman
walked up and asked if I was Jamar, and said, “I
remember that shot that you hit against Kansas.” So,
that is definitely what I’m known for in the state of
HHC: 1992-1993 saw
you guys make the NCAA Tournament again, although things
ended on a sour note against New Mexico State. Before we
talk about that game, we’d like to reminisce with you
about the big road win that season at Missouri, which
ended a six game losing streak in Columbia for Danny
Nee. With 5 seconds left, you stole an inbounds pass and
ended up getting fouled, before hitting the game winning
free throw with 2 seconds left. Tell us how that felt,
and how does it rank compared to the Kansas shot the
JJ: It doesn’t rank
up there with the Kansas shot, but again, that was
another big win for us as a team, because it’d been a
long time, as you said, since we went down there and
won. So, it was a huge win for us, and a great
confidence builder, as we knew that if we could play in
Missouri and win, we could go anywhere in the Big 8 and
win, or anywhere in the country, for that matter. So it
was a huge confidence win for us.
HHC: And the New Mexico State game…what
the heck happened?
JJ: I think one of
the things that used to happen with our teams is that at
the end of the year, we would just kind of have melt
downs. It would be the time of the year where the other
parts of the student body were going on spring break,
and we would be going through a season of pounding out
and trying to play ball, school, etc. I think at the
end, it just wore on us, because we always had teams
that were really good, but I felt like there were times
and years where we should have gone a little further
than we did.
HHC: Your senior season of 1993-1994 saw
yet another NCAA Tournament appearance, as you guys won
20 games and played against Penn. Talk about that season
and what you remember?
JJ: Well, your senior
season always has some good highlights. But, what I
remember most is coming together at the end of the year
and in the Big 8 tournament and just really making a run
for the NCAA tournament. Those were just such fun times.
As a player, and as myself looking
back, the games and all of that stuff were good, but the
best thing about your senior year is the stuff you
remember about your teammates and things off the court,
such as things in the locker room. As a player, that’s
probably what I miss most.
HHC: How many of those NCAA Tournament
losses would you say that you guys lost to a better team
JJ: I don’t think in
any of those games, we ever lost to a team that was
better than us. I think we always beat ourselves, and we
kind of just melted down. Maybe there was a little bit
of complacency that took place in some of those seasons,
but I don’t think there was ever a time that we played
against somebody flat out better than us.
That will probably always be the
let down, that even though we made the tourney, we never
won a game.
HHC: Before we get to today, we have to
get a couple funny Danny Nee stories out of you, since
we ask every player who played for him to add to the
never-ending list. What do you have for us?
JJ: (Laughs) Oh, man, lets see… I’ll give
you a couple, with the first being a little more
I think it was my junior year, and
we were playing Iowa State in Ames, and it was the year
we had a lot of chatter going on about the fab four of
Strickland, Badgett, Boone, and Woolridge. And, I think
coach Nee was getting a lot of heat because of how he
was or wasn’t playing them, and you’ve got other people
outside getting involved. So, I remember him making a
point against ISU down in Ames, we were playing and we
were pretty much in the game, but then he put the
freshman in. And, it was kind of like that “now I’m
going to baptize you in the fire” type of thing.
Gosh, those guys kind of got out
there, and being young and inexperienced, just melted
down and fell apart. And unfortunately, he put the
starters back in and we were able to recoup, but we
weren’t able to come out with a “W.”
Now, I don’t think it was his
intent to lose, but did he make a point? Yes. He went
into the locker room and I remember it being dead
silent, and I think everybody, including the freshman,
understood what he was saying, and I don’t think he said
The other story is pure comical.
(Laughs) I think it was my sophomore year against
Michigan State, and this was kind of my introduction
into what Nee was going to be like the next three years.
But, I remember at halftime against Michigan State, we
were getting it handed to us bad. And, man, I never saw
any man’s face get so red or so upset without having a
heart attack, stroke, or any other medical
complications. (Laughs) I was flat out frightened and
scared, and the thing about it was that Pike, Bruce, and
Dapreis never warned me. (Laughs)
So when that happened, I was just
terrified man. I was more afraid of him than I was of
going out and playing. I was like, “Hey, if we don’t win
this game, I don’t know what this guy is going to do.”
HHC: That’s hilarious. Hey, where is Jamar
Johnson these days, and what have you been up to since
JJ: Oh man… Well, I
played in a few exhibition games for the Racers right
after I finished, but they wanted me to go on IR for a
couple of years without getting paid, so that didn’t
last long. I came back to Lincoln and worked as an
administrative assistant from 1995-1996, so I was around
when those guys won the NIT, which was awesome.
After that, I worked with West
Corporation in Omaha as a compensation analyst. And, I
enjoyed it because I love working with people. I’m
always trying to be the best teammate that I can
continue to be.
And today, Jamar Johnson is working
in Sports HR out in Phoenix, with my own business. We
work with professional athletes doing human resource and
management. Pretty much, I’ve worked in the human
resource field my entire working career.
HHC: Are you cool with taking some reader
JJ: Yeah definitely
man, I always enjoy talking about the glory days of my
HHC: Thanks a lot for
joining us. It’s been a pleasure talking.
JJ: No problem, and
hey wait, I want to say one more thing. Everyday since
Erick Strickland called me and let me know about this
site, I hit the site everyday, man. I just want to thank
you for giving former players like myself the chance to
now actually follow the program, and get real in depth
knowledge of what’s going on with the program. That’s
always been important to a lot of us, and now we have
the means to be able to do that, so I just want to say
thank you for doing this and what you do with Husker
Hoops Central, and to everybody that’s involved with it,
from Beau, Bruce, Cary, Grant, Darren, and everyone