- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 17, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Antawn Jamison would love to say he saw this coming. He would like to say his career has followed the script he scribbled on the pages of his mind when he left North Carolina after his junior season as the National Player of the Year.

But the fact is, after his first couple of years in the league, Jamison wondered whether he would ever mount to anything more than a great college player much less a 10-year veteran and two-time All-Star.

So when Jamison, 30, dons the Eastern Conference blue for the second time in three seasons today at New Orleans Arena, the forward will savor the moment.

“I was kinda satisfied being a one-time All-Star,” said Jamison, who with 21.5 points and 10.3 rebounds is one of just two Eastern Conference players averaging at least 20 points and 10 rebounds this season. “That’s an opportunity not many people get. And last year, I thought I had a chance, then I got hurt and it didn’t happen. So when things like this happen, you soak it in. You never know when it’ll happen again.”

When Jamison was drafted fourth overall in 1998 after averaging 22.2 points and 10.5 points at North Carolina, he immediately felt the weight of high expectations — both his own and those of the Golden State fans, who had watched their team trade the No. 5 pick and fellow Tar Heels alum Vince Carter to Toronto in exchange for him.

“I started doubting myself: ‘Should I have stayed another year?’ ” Jamison remembered. “And Vince was playing well. Everyone was saying ‘They shouldn’t have traded him.’ Then I started playing better and then had to get my knee scoped. I thought it couldn’t get any worse.”

In addition to enduring comparisons to Carter, who has averaged 23.9 points and 5.5 rebounds during a career that has featured seven All-Star appearances, Jamison had to find his natural position.

In his first five seasons, he played for five different coaches, all of whom saw his potential differently.

“In college, my back was to the basket, with my back to the basket my whole three years at Carolina,” Jamison recalled. “When I came to the league everyone was like ‘What position is he? … He can’t be a three because his perimeter skills are not skilled enough to shoot the ball and take it of the floor and beat anybody. And as a four, the guy’s listed as 6-9, but if he’s 6-6 or 6-7 he can’t weigh more than 210.’

“And in the league, one coach saw me as a three, one saw me as a four, so it changed every year.”

But positional musical chairs was a blessing in disguise. Since he had to widen his repertoire and improve his all-around skills, Jamison is now more versatile. He can post up on smaller opponents or use a quick release and unconventional shot selection to outwit bigger foes.

“He’s just a terrific player,” Orlando’s Dwight Howard said. “He’s got this unorthodox shot that works every time. It’s hard. You don’t know when he’s gonna pull out something from his bag of tricks. I love watching him play.”

Just when Jamison felt like he was coming into his own at Golden State, the team traded him to the Dallas Mavericks in 2003, which at the time seemed like a setback. Jamison was relegated to coming off the bench, but earned Sixth Man Award honors that season. But the following year, the Mavericks traded Jamison to the Wizards for the draft rights to Devin Harris.

But this change of address was different.

“Once I got to D.C., things fell into place,” Jamison said. “To be a part of an organization that wanted me there. As soon as I got there I was the leader of the team. Things that I wanted to happen before didn’t quite happen the way you wanted it to happen, then started falling into place in D.C.

“The road was bumpy there for the beginning of the journey, but then in the middle and now towards the back end of it, it’s definitely been gratifying. I went from, ‘Don’t know if it’s gonna be possible,’ to, ‘What was I thinking?’ to now, everything’s falling into place.”

Jamison this season has improved his rebounding skills as the 10.3 average represents a career high. His all-around skills have helped keep the Wizards afloat without three-time All-Star Gilbert Arenas as they remain in the playoff picture, ranking sixth in the East.

Jamison will become a free agent this summer, but he has said he hasn’t allowed himself to think extensively about his future, focusing instead on this season. Jamison has said, however, he feels home in the District and he’s “a firm believer that the grass is not always greener on the other side.”

Regardless of the future, Jamison has quietly authored a solid career (19.6 points, 7.8 rebounds in 10 seasons), putting far behind him the doubts of his younger years.

“Antawn had a lot of people doubting him in college, saying he can’t play in the NBA, he’s a tweener and this and that,” fellow Tar Heels alum and Eastern Conference All-Star Rasheed Wallace said. “But he’s established himself real well the last few years. It’s just his heart and his drive man. He’s a [heck] of a ball player, doesn’t complain about his shots, complain about his minutes. He just goes out and plays. That’s just that Carolina blue we have in us.”

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