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  • Writer's pictureElijah Moore

Montrell Jacobs has the Power of Confidence at Kentucky State

Montrell Jacobs looked down the court at the open basket. Without thinking, he let loose a three — his shot since he was a child. With the confidence of a lifetime of experience, he sank the basket against Louisville. His teammates went wild, much wilder than normal.

Only later he realized, he shot from mid-court.

This is what Montrell can accomplish now, as an upperclassman at Kentucky State University. He has pride in himself, and a confidence that others would envy. But he knows that to be self-possessed in his twenties, he required the support of many who taught him to believe.

Those others are his family.

Montrell played baseball and basketball from about age four. Basketball, though, was the family sport. Mom played in college. Cousins played. And perhaps most importantly, Uncle Fred played.

Uncle Fred is a Milwaukee institution, running a basketball camp for inner-city kids. The camp, actually, featured many members of Montrell’s extended family in pivotal roles.

This quickly led to tournaments on Uncle Fred’s AAU team, the Hoop Kings. Montrell was a standout, full of the brashness of youth. He earned the opportunity to play for a suburban team for middle school that fed into a strong high school program.

And his progress stopped.

At five foot, two inches, he rode the bench in middle school.

“I was starting to think that I wasn’t good anymore,” said Montrell.

So Dad stepped in.

What to say about Dad? Dad’s sport was football, not basketball. But he knew sports, and he knew his son.

“Playing in this [feeder] school system, you’re going to have to face some adversity. I wanted [Montrell] to be prepared for life,” said Dad.

Dad did not push. He let Montrell set his own goals, but if he asked for help, Dad was there.

Dad created a training regimen for the undersized middle schooler.

Want more explosiveness on the court? Crawl up the stairs at home using both hands and feet.

And keep this drill a secret from Mom, who was usually upstairs correcting her students’ papers.

And if that wasn’t enough, add a weight vest.

And jump a weighted rope wearing the weighted vest.

Want to improve shooting? Shoot into a hoop in the backyard without a backboard. Dad would rebound.

This went on for four years. Montrell set the goals; Dad helped him.

Mom was there too, helping her “baby.” Well, not quite her baby — Montrell is younger than his sister but he also has a little brother, who Mom calls “little baby.” Mom has other nicknames too, of dubious provenance.

When Montrell thought about giving up, Mom reminded him that God gives his greatest battles to his strongest soldiers.

Mom and Dad, said Montrell, were a unit then, inseparable in his mind. They remain a unit to this day.

Did this family support work?

To an extent. Montrell started to believe he could advance to the next level. But progress on the court was slow.

Montrell’s prospects seemed to change after one fateful game in eighth grade against an opposing team starring future NBAer Tyler Herro. Montrell scored 15 points in just ten minutes. The opposing coach noticed him and his talent, and encouraged him to return to the old neighborhood in Milwaukee to get more opportunity to play. And so, Montrell transferred to Milwaukee Riverside High School to start his freshman year. He prepared to be a “superstar.”

The playing opportunities did not materialize.

Montrell remained on the JV team for two years. Even junior varsity was loaded with talent, including Alondes Williams, the 2021-2022 ACC Player of the Year, and Montrell played limited minutes.

Fortunately, time and hormones can change everything. After one summer in Louisiana, Montrell finally had the growth spurt he needed, shooting up eight inches in just a few months. It must have been the food.

Now a junior, at five feet, ten inches (eventually six feet), Montrell finally made varsity.

But he still did not play consistently. “I was more of a shooter. I would sit in the corner to wait for a three-pointer. I wasn’t too exciting at that time,” admitted Montrell.

It would be natural for anyone’s confidence to take a hit. Montrell’s dad recalled Montrell’s uncertainty about his future. He gave up on the dream of college.

But then, encouragement in the form of a new coach his senior year revitalized Montrell’s spirits. Finally, he shined, averaging 15 points and four rebounds per game.

“Rebuilding that confidence in that last year of high school was vital, [because] he didn’t believe in himself anymore,” said Dad.

This was still not the end of the story, because Montrell knew his skills needed some help. He still focused on defense and three-point scoring. “I wanted to work on my dribbling and being able to create my shot, that was one thing I struggled with,” recalled Montrell.

And to be confident, he still relied on external validation. He had not learned to internalize others’ belief in him.

Recruitment from a junior college provided the impetus to take him to the next level.

Before senior year, Montrell thought college was a distant dream. But Riverland Community College in Minnesota wanted him on their team, and Montrell was eager to play.

He assumed he would be red-shirted freshman year. “I didn’t think I was going to be good enough, I didn’t have the confidence at all,” he said.

He still harbored self-doubts during the pre-season scrimmages. He scored, as he always did, but he knew his game needed work.

To his surprise, head coach Derek Hahn mandated that he play each game.

Coach Hahn was a new mentor, a new pillar of support. Montrell reflected, “I never had that [on my other teams], and if he believes in me, I can do whatever.” Knowing Coach was in his corner sparked something inside Montrell.

During his first year, Montrell was the sixth man on the team. After the team fell short of winning the championship of the Minnesota College Athletic Conference, Montrell went to the gym every day. He played pick-up games, and he worked on dribbling. He played big, he played small, he found ways to start making his own shots — something he had struggled with in the past.

Montrell did everything he could to maximize the potential he knew he had. “I was trying to bring myself to that next level. I wanted to go division one or division two.”

The work reflected in some of his best games to be played during his sophomore year. Montrell put up a career-high of 38 points against Western Technical College on Jan. 22, 2020. It helped that someone from the old Milwaukee neighborhood was on the opposing team, and scored 30; Montrell was 126% better.

The Riverland Blue Devils’ season came up short again of making it to the championship game, but Montrell had a spectacular final season.

Next stop: a four-year school. Montrell set his sights on an HCBU. Recruiters called from Kentucky State University.

Kentucky State Assistant Coach Shaun Smith was interested in Montrell and kept their communication strong throughout the whole recruitment process. “They were always checking on my status and they kept me in the loop. It was the place that felt like home,” said Montrell.

Montrell soon committed to the school. And it was the best choice of his career.

He loves the school, because it feels like a family. He does not need external encouragement anymore, but the sense of community still bolsters his spirit.

Now, his professors come to games and talk with Montrell about his performance after class. He feels that the whole campus is one, big, supportive family.

Montrell calls Kentucky State “a breath of fresh air,” a place where teachers and coaches care about basketball, but where they care more about his academic success.

Graduation is as important as basketball, which resonates with the senior Communications major.

Montrell is still a super scorer. He uses film to bolster his confidence after both great games and poor ones. Former NBA player Bonzi Wells watched him play, and praised his overall skill.

The team has great personal chemistry, but they know they collectively need to gel on the court to reach their championship goal. This is a goal within reach. The Thorobreds are an impressive 6-1. And Montrell is averaging a whopping 27.5 points per game while also leading the team in steals and free throw percentage.

How about Mom and Dad? Dad still rebounds for Montrell. Mom still takes care of her baby. And Mom and Dad still watch every game.

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