Junior carves out his Stamping grounds

After a late start, J’son Stamper has provided Minnesota with vital rebounding.

Bob Wothe

If there’s one player who sums up this year’s Minnesota men’s basketball team, it’s junior college transfer J’son Stamper.

On a team that prides itself on being tough and ugly, the 6-foot-6-inch, 233-pound Stamper is the toughest and ug Ö well, not the most-polished offensive player.

But Stamper’s defensive intensity and ability to clean the glass have made him the poster child for this year’s Gophers.

“When we went out to junior colleges, toughness and athleticism were the two biggest things (we looked for),” coach Dan Monson said. “We felt J was very tough-minded, and he gives you so much energy defensively and energy rebounding the ball.”

Stamper is coming off perhaps the most-important game of his Minnesota career against Ohio State on Saturday, when he scored the team’s last two baskets and pulled down two late rebounds to preserve a win.

He’ll try to replicate that effort tonight when Minnesota (17-9, 7-6 Big Ten) takes on Iowa (16-9, 4-8) at Williams Arena.

Stamper’s mentality has made him a leader for Minnesota despite an early setback.

“In fairness to J, I don’t think he’s had the year that we wanted or that he expected as far as how much he gives us, because he was hurt earlier in the year,” Monson said. “He’s still had some mistakes offensively as far as running some stuff.”

A clear example of that is his 1-to-2.2 assist-to-turnover ratio.

But defensively and on the glass, he’s come as advertised.

“J’son will grab one out of three rebounds anytime he’s on the court,” Aaron Robinson said. “He’s strong, and he’s got lots of athletic ability. But he’s really just got the mentality that he’s going to rebound the ball.”

Stamper started honing that mentality back home in Bronx, N.Y., where he learned the tough-minded style of play Monson said he loves.

“Back home in the parks, you play through fouls; you play through it all,” Stamper said.

But that all-out style of play has resulted in one foul every six minutes, and he leads the team in fouls with 69, despite playing just 17 minutes a game.

“It’s a product of how I play; I’ve got to be physical,” Stamper said. “But I do have to be a little more careful on the court so I can stay out there longer.”

Though Stamper was heavily recruited by East Coast schools that were impressed with his physicality and the 17.6 points and 12 rebounds he averaged as a senior at Manhattan Center High School, his grades weren’t good enough.

So, in an attempt to refocus himself, he left the busy streets of New York and headed to Independence Community College in Kansas.

“In a big city like New York, it’s difficult. You get distracted pretty easily,” Stamper said. “Kansas gave me the opportunity to focus on things that are important – things that I felt would get me to the next level.”

After garnering co-most valuable player of the Jayhawk East Conference and ranking fourth in the nation with 11.5 rebounds his sophomore year, Stamper chose Minnesota over major Division I teams such as Purdue, Indiana and Kentucky.

He said he’s glad to be back in the city, and he’s been an integral part of a Gophers squad that is pushing for an NCAA berth. Despite playing just 17 minutes per game, Stamper is usually on the floor when the game is in the balance, because he averages 10.7 rebounds per 40 minutes and has 51 offensive boards.

Toss in 49.5 percent field-goal shooting, and a guy who was labeled by many as “too short” to be a Division I big man has turned in a solid season.

“I love to prove people wrong,” Stamper said. “I’ve done that pretty much all my life, and I’ve played the big-man spot since high school. Yeah, I get a kick out of that.”