Bronx heart leads to success at the Barn

by C.J. Spang

There is no glory in what he does.

No awards. No accolades. Just bruises and a knee brace to remind him of the punishment he endured ” and dished out ” while battling for rebounds game in and game out.

That is the role of J’son Stamper, a senior forward on Minnesota’s men’s basketball team.

“He’s the captain of this team,” junior forward Zach Puchtel said. “He’s the main leader of this team and he brings that toughness and focus and it’s contagious, everyone feeds off of him.”

A native of Bronx, N.Y., Stamper always is representing New York in what he wears and how he acts.

But to him, New York is much more than just the N and Y stitched into his seven different Yankees hats.

“New York is a part of me,” Stamper said. “I’m a New Yorker to the heart and I love representing it, everything that it stands for, and I’m going to continue to do so.”

Stamper’s New York roots earned him am imvitation to play in the EBC/Rucker Park Tournament after his first year in junior college.

“My first game was against Stephon Marbury, Skip to My Lou, Al Harrington, Dahntay Jones and a couple other hometown greats,” Stamper said. “That was a great opportunity for me… and I just enjoyed it.

“I always love going back home and playing in summer tournaments. (I) don’t get to do it at all now, but I’d like to do that in the future again.”

He represents New York so much that his teammates often make fun of his obsession.

“He’s always cooking and doing the New York thing,” Puchtel said. “And if he ever does anything wrong, we say, “Oh, that’s from the Bronx, that’s from the Bronx,’ and throw up this little hand signal he’s got. But that’s the running joke, that he’s all New York and nothing else.”

And being “all New York” is what made him the type of player he is today.

Stamper grew up with both parents, but in separate homes, which he admitted was tough.

“Basketball was the outlet for me to deal with a lot of different problems with school and personally,” he said. “So it turned out to be a great experience coming from the Bronx.”

So how did a kid from the Bronx end up at Minnesota?

“It was a long process,” Stamper said.

It began with streetball ” going out and playing in different parks around the city.

Stamper didn’t play organized basketball until high school.

The senior forward spent two years at an alternative high school before transferring to Manhattan Center.

His parents thought the curriculum wouldn’t prepare him well enough for a college environment.

But Stamper was hit with disappointment when he began at Manhattan Center.

The school suggested he repeat his sophomore year because of the differences in curricula.

“That was tough for me. Just sitting out, not being able to play organized basketball when I had already had a year of organized basketball,” Stamper said. “So after my second year, it was just a point where I was just hungry for more.”

But once again his hunger was curbed. Because Stamper repeated his sophomore year, he was ineligible to play as a fifth-year senior.

“That’s where Riverside Church really opened the doors for me,” he said.

Stamper played on the church’s winter traveling team, competing against prep schools and junior colleges.

There were Division I schools that showed interest in Stamper, but after graduation, he chose to attend Independence Community College in Independence, Kan. After his two years there the Gophers offered him a scholarship.

Over the past two seasons, Stamper has become known for his tenacity, toughness and scrappiness down low.

Stamper played limited minutes in the first four Big Ten games because of lingering injuries and foul trouble.

But he came back against Michigan and Illinois with two of the best games of his career.

The senior forward recorded two of his four career double-doubles in back-to-back Minnesota losses.

“I think he’s the first person in the Big Ten season for us to have back-to-back good games,” coach Dan Monson said.

Why was Stamper the first player to put together two good games in a row? His tenacity, toughness and scrappiness ” something last year’s squad prided itself on during its improbable run to the NCAA Tournament.

But this season, the Gophers hadn’t shown that same desire and passion ” until Stamper came back healthy.

“It’s something that we felt that we were missing all along,” Monson said. “But we were missing J.”