NCAA Tournament Interviews: Montana's Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar

    
March 11th, 2012

In the next installment in his NCAA Tournament interviews series CHN writer caught up with two players for the Montana Grizzlies, guards Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. Cherry is one of the best defenders in the country and was named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year this season, while Jamar was named conference tournament MVP. 

Jon Teitel: In high school you lost a state title to Kareem Jamar's team. Could you ever imagine that only a few years later you two would be teammates in the NCAA tournament?

Will Cherry: Not really. I heard that we were recruiting someone from Kareem's team, but I did not know exactly who it was. Now that we are both here it is crazy. We instantly clicked off the court because we are both from the same area, and after playing together we now have a great chemistry on the court.

JT: You had eight points and three steals in a five-point opening round loss to New Mexico in the 2010 NCAA tournament. What have you told your teammates about what to expect in March?

WC: I have not told them much yet, but I did say that just to walk on the floor and tough the big logo at midcourt and wear the patches on your jersey is a dream come true. When the lights come on it is exhilarating.

JT: After losing to Weber State in January you went on school-record 14-game winning streak to close out the season, and your 25-7 record is the best at Montana in the past two decades. Do you feel like your team is one of the hottest in the country right now?

WC: I do not know about the whole country, but we are definitely hot. We do not worry about the streak: we just take it one game at a time. There is no complacency after winning the conference title. We never get too high or too low and just stay in the moment.

JT: In February you had a career-high 30 points (12-20 FG) to go along with eight steals in a win at Sacramento State. Where does that rank among the best all-around games of your career?

WC: It was probably the best. That is the 1st time in my career that I ever scored 30. I always came close but never got all the way to 30. The eight steals was also big. It was the 2nd-most I have ever had in college. To be honest, getting the win made it even better.

JT: You were recently named Big Sky Defensive Player of the Year and you rank in the Top-10 in the country in steals. What is your secret for being a great defender, and do you consider yourself one of the best defenders in the nation?

WC: I think that I am one of the best defenders in the country. A lot of players are great on offense but you have to be good on both sides of the ball. The key is that you have to take pride in locking down your defender and have a little speed as well.

JT: You had 13 points and six assists in the win over Weber State to clinch the Big Sky title. How on earth were you able to outscore them 54-30 in the second half?

WC: Kareem and Mathias Ward just caught fire and hit a lot of jump shots to get us going out of the gate after halftime. We have many weapons on offense from 1-5, so our opponents cannot just key on one guy. We were able to hold them to one shot and get a lot of defensive rebounds.

JT: Your scoring, rebounding and foul shooting have all increased during each of your three years in college. How have you been able to continue to improve from year to year?

WC: I just work hard each and every day. Players are not made on the court, they are made off the court by the work they put in during the offseason. I have tried to improve on every little aspect of my game that I can. Free throws are critical. I want to be the guy that teams do not want to put on the line late in the game. My coaches have worked hard with me from day 1 and my teammates have pushed me in practice.

JT: You have not played a Top-25 team all season. Are you worried that your schedule has not fully prepared you to face a tournament-caliber team?

WC: Not at all. Our coaches do a good job of preparing us for whoever we face; we cannot control who we play. We will not lay down for anyone: we have a lot of heart.

JT: None of your top three scorers are seniors. Do you think your team is built to win now, or do you think you can bring back the nucleus next year and make a serious run?

WC: With the team that we have now we are just going to keep riding this thing out, but next year we will be great with a bunch of veterans who have been through the war in the trenches.

JT: What seed do you think you deserve, and what kind of team would you matchup against the best?

WC: I think we deserve a 13 or 14 seed. We have cleaned up our bad losses with some good wins over the past couple of months. I do not know who we would match up against the best; maybe a fellow mid-major team.

Kareem Jamar

JT: You won two California state titles in high school, one of which was a win over Will Cherry and his high school team. Could you ever imagine that only a few years later you two would be teammates in the NCAA tournament?

Kareem Jamar: Not at all. I did not even know where Montana was back in the day, but I am glad that I came here and get to play with a super-competitive guy like Will.

JT: You had 22 points and three steals in an opening round loss to Duquesne in the 2011 CBI. What did you learn from that loss that you think can help you this time around?

KJ: The CBI is a different level of play than the NCAA tournament, so I do not know how much it will help us. The good thing is that our team morale will be very different since we are coming off of a win rather than a loss.

JT: After losing to Weber State in January you went on school-record 14-game winning streak to close out the season, and your 25-7 record is the best at Montana in the past two decades. Do you feel like your team is one of the hottest in the country right now?

KJ: Definitely. I know there are some other teams with impressive winning streaks, but we are playing very well.

JT: In February you had a triple-double (21 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists) in a win over Hawai'i. Where does that rank among the best all-around games of your career?

KJ: Probably at the top, as I had never had a triple-double before in my life. I got to do it in front of my brothers for their 1st MT game.

JT: You had 23 points (9-12 FG) and seven assists and were named Big Sky tournament MVP in the win over Weber State to clinch the Big Sky title. How were you able to play your best when it mattered the most, and what was the feeling like in your locker room afterward?

KJ: I have watched the game and thought I was shooting too far out, but I was just blessed enough that they went in. It has not really hit me yet; it is kind of surreal. Everyone in the locker room was happy and dancing around.

JT: Almost every single one of your stats increased from your freshman to your sophomore year. How have you been able to improve so much from last year to this year?

KJ: Pure hard work. I had a chip on my shoulder coming into the summer because I was not named conference Rookie of the Year last year and we did not win the conference title, so I worked hard all summer.

JT: You have used the same five starters for a majority of the season. How much of a factor has that consistency been to your success?

KJ: It is probably the biggest factor because we all know each other's favorite spots on the floor. However, what people do not see is that our young bench pushes us every day in practice to become better.

JT: You have not played a Top-25 team all season. Are you worried that your schedule has not fully prepared you to face a tournament-caliber team?

KJ: Not at all. We play up to the level of our competition, be it Hawai'i, Long Beach State, etc. We are playing for a national title, so we will play our best.

JT: None of your top three scorers are seniors. Do you think your team is built to win now, or do you think you can bring back the nucleus next year and make a serious run?

KJ: We are ready to win now even though we are pretty young. It is a credit to the hard work we have all put in.

JT: What seed do you think you deserve, and what kind of team would you matchup against the best?

KJ: I would love to get a 13 seed because we have won 14 in a row, but higher would be even better! I do not know who else will make the tournament, but we will be ready to play whoever we get matched up with.