Roosevelt is counting on a familiar face to get the most out of a talented senior nucleus next boys basketball season.
Jamarr Lawson, an assistant with the Roughriders for the past four seasons, has been hired to replace Yusef Leary as coach. Lawson has coached standout senior guards Terrence Hill Jr., Utrillo Morris and Chance White in youth and club programs since they were fourth-graders.
“I think we all feel like it's overdue,” Lawson said. “They weren't even sure for their senior year, what their options were going to be. When they heard that I got the head-coaching job, it was like a no-brainer. It feels like a family reunion.”
It is the first high school head coaching job for Lawson. He coached Roosevelt middle school teams in the Portland Interscholastic League youth sports program for six years and coached Hill, White and Morris in his own AAU program, Northwest Athletics (NWA).
“I've been on a journey with those guys,” Lawson said.
Lawson succeeds Leary, who went 79-68 in six seasons. The team went 10-16 last season, when it forfeited three victories due to a rules violation.
The Roughriders' last two seasons have ended with painful 6A playoff defeats. They fell to Summit 65-64 on a last-second tip-in in the 2022 quarterfinals and lost to eventual champion Tualatin 71-65 in the first round last year, a game in which they led by 15 points at halftime.
“We definitely still have both of those games in our dreams,” Lawson said. “They still continue to haunt us. I think the only way to balance what happened in those games is to go get one. We're definitely focused.”
Last season, White (22.2 points per game) was named to the PIL first team and Morris (16.4 points) made the second team. The 6-foot-3 Hill, who averaged 19.5 points as a freshman and 19.8 points as a sophomore, spent last season playing for AZ Compass Prep in Arizona.
But Hill, who saw limited playing time as a junior, decided to return to Roosevelt for his senior season.
“The biggest thing is he feels like he owes his community one,” Lawson said. “And he just really wanted to get that high school experience and finish off at home. He just wants to come home and do something special for his state, his city and his neighborhood.”
Hill has an assortment of college offers that includes Oregon State, San Francisco, Montana, Portland, Portland State, Utah State and San Jose State.
Lawson said Hill gained perspective from his experience in Arizona, where he averaged 3.1 points and 2.1 assists in 12 games in the National Interscholastic Basketball Conference for AZ Compass Prep
“I think it humbled him, in a sense,” Lawson said. “He got to see what it's going to look like when you get to a Division I college. Sometimes it's hard to decipher when you're having success with bad habits. I think it really helped him clean up a lot of bad habits. It really helped him mature.”
Lawson grew up in northeast Portland. He attended Benson as a freshman before transferring to Jefferson, where he was in the Class of 2001. But he did not graduate from Jefferson, cutting his basketball career short before reaching varsity.
“The year I was going to get my shot, I was ineligible because of academics,” he said. “I was one of those kids that just tried to squeeze by and didn't really want to be in the classroom.
“That's why I'm so passionate about this generation now just because I was one of those lost kids with a single mother with six in the household. So I really didn't have the opportunity or the guidance that I'm giving back to these kids now to be able to stay on the straight and narrow line.”
Lawson earned his diploma through Portland Youth Builders, and after briefly working in construction, he started working with at-risk youth in Portland. He served as a mentor at Ockley Green Middle School, doing case management, and has worked with Self Enhancement Inc. In the past year, he accepted a position as a senior director for three Boys & Girls Clubs.
In addition to his own AAU program, he has trained many of Portland's top high school players. His NWA program merged with Rose City Rebels three years ago and plays in the elite EYBL circuit.
Now he is ready to move into a new chapter by coaching the Roughriders.
“I put in a lot of time and was patient and have been very humble,” he said. “I just felt like a lot of the respect and relationships I've built with the kids and the community at Roosevelt, it was my time to step up and start working on some culture shifts. These kids know how I'll show up for them.”