Beyond the game: JaMarcus Weatherspoon, junior guard

Assistant Sports Editor

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His last name is at the end of the alphabet, so JaMarcus Weatherspoon, junior guard, sat nervously, waiting to walk across the stage.

JaMarcus’ peers received their diplomas and gave brief remarks. He could hear his mother, Emmaline, chanting “save the best for last.”

After a few moments, JaMarcus stood before a packed Southern University Superdome in his maroon cap and gown and could only look to the crowd in disbelief.

JaMarcus was not supposed to graduate.

“I didn’t expect to be where I’m at today,” JaMarcus said. “It’s only God that got me here.”

JaMarcus graduated in 2012 from Istrouma High School in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Students were informed a year later that the institution would be one of seven in the Louisiana Recovery School District to close its doors due to poor academic performance and a struggle to revive enrollment rates.

“My high school, actually, was the first high school to get shut down in Baton Rouge,” JaMarcus said. “I went to a high school where I really didn’t learn that much. Honest truth, it wasn’t a school where you go to learn. It was a school where you go to have fun and get into trouble.”

Istrouma High School seniors averaged a composite score of 15.7 on the ACT the year JaMarcus graduated. The score was the lowest of any school within the district and close to six points below the national average.

JaMarcus reached an academic low point when he finished his sophomore year of high school with a 1.8 GPA. JaMarcus needed to raise his GPA to a 2.5 over the summer in order to be eligible for basketball.

“I had to do a whole summer of extra work, club time to study and to do other things beside going to school because my school didn’t teach me that much,” JaMarcus said. “We went to school the longest, 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., and we still weren’t nowhere close to educated where we needed to be.”

JaMarcus considered dropping out of high school before beginning his junior year. His mother, father and oldest brother had dropped out, but JaMarcus wanted to be different.

He regained eligibility after applying himself to his summer studies.

“I didn’t even take school seriously until my 11th grade year,” JaMarcus said. “I started talking to colleges, and they started explaining what they could do to help me get into school where my mom won’t have to pay or my dad won’t have to pay.“

Finances were the main reason JaMarcus never believed he would go to college. Being the first in the family to graduate from high school and college became a feasible goal after he gained attention from local and out-of-state universities during his junior year.

 “We always said, ‘You have to make yourself do better,’” Emmaline said. “I always told him and all of my kids, ‘You’re not going to be a follower. You’re going to be a leader.’ He changed his friends—he changed a lot of things he was doing—and put his mind into his school and his work, and he gradually just boomed up. He blew up.”

JaMarcus was putting in extra effort academically, but, he also saw improvement on the court. He credits strength shoes he purchased with the help of his godmother, Lisa Shaw.

“(Shaw) is really supportive of JaMarcus,” Emmaline said. “It’s like he’s one of her kids, and he is. ”

JaMarcus had saved up his allowance for weeks, even offering to do his siblings’ chores for their shares, in an effort to purchase the strength shoes that advertised an increase in speed and vertical leap. He finally got them and seldom took them off.

“I wore the strength shoes every day,” JaMarcus said. “I never wore (normal) shoes my 11th grade year. People would always tell me, ‘Why are you wearing them shoes? You look funny. You got that big old thing at the end of your foot.’”

JaMarcus kept wearing the black-and-red shoes despite the criticism. He gave the shoes to his younger brother when he left for college.

The shoes were not all JaMarcus left with his younger siblings, who are both enrolled in high school.

“(My parents) always tell me, ‘JaMarcus, lead the way, show the path for your younger sister and younger brother to take,’” JaMarcus said. “It’s actually helping them. My little sister and brother love basketball too.”

JaMarcus is currently the only person in the immediate family to have graduated from high school and attend college, but he hopes his younger siblings will take the same route.

“My mom always told me, ‘Be different,’” JaMarcus said. “That’s what she always said. ‘Be different.’ At the time I was like, ‘I don’t want to hear none of that,’ and she would always tell me, ‘Be different from what you see,’ and all I saw was poverty, robbery, all of that.”

JaMarcus ignores the advice of Texas State men’s basketball Coach Danny Kaspar every time he goes home. He spends the break playing basketball to distract himself from his surroundings.

JaMarcus knows his college career is coming to an end with one year of eligibility left, but he has already made conditional plans for the future.

“I actually want to own my own barber shop, kind of do a little entrepreneurship,” JaMarcus said. “My godmom is a teacher—she’s been teaching for 14 years now—and my high school coach (has) been coaching for 11, so if I wanted to go back and teach or coach, I have those doors open for me.”

JaMarcus has gone from struggling to be eligible to play basketball to graduating high school among the top 30 students in his class.

He is not putting a limit on how far he can go.

“It still hasn’t hit me,” JaMarcus said. “I’ve still got another year to go, but I think about—what would I be doing if I didn’t play basketball, if I didn’t come to college? Would I be at home? Who would be my friend still? But it’s just a big feeling. It’s a great feeling to know I have something to lean on, something I can always fall back on besides basketball.”

Follow Mariah Medina on Twitter @Mariahmedinaaa.