Late last Thursday evening, amid little fanfare in an Ogden, Utah, arena, University of Montana basketball player Kareem Jamar finished one of the best careers in the program's storied history. Despite Jamar's game-high 20 points, the Griz lost to Portland State in the first round of the Big Sky Conference tournament, ending the team's bid for a third straight championship and berth in the NCAA tournament—and concluding a historic run by an understated superstar.
Jamar deserved a better send-off. The 6-5 swingman filled stat sheets more than highlight reels and complemented teammates more than he posterized opponents, all the while quietly filling UM's record book. He led the team in points, rebounds and assists this year, and was named to the conference's all-league first team for the third straight season. Jamar finished his career with 1,673 points, fourth highest all-time at UM behind late-1940s star Bob Cope and eventual NBA players Larry Krystkowiak and Michael Ray Richardson. Jamar also ended up with the fourth most assists in school history.
More importantly, the SoCal product stepped into a critical leadership position that's been a hallmark of UM's recent success. It was a somewhat different role for a player often referred to as a "glue guy" who spent three years mostly deferring to seniors. But like Anthony Johnson and Will Cherry before him, Jamar showed he could put the team on his shoulders, step up in big moments and, as was often the case during this season's struggles, accept responsibility when UM failed to meet expectations.
Griz Nation has been spoiled by an unbelievable winning stretch. Since the 2009-2010 campaign, coach Wayne Tinkle had led the program to three conference titles and trips to the Big Dance. The one season UM fell short, it still reached the conference title game. Anyone who watched this year's squad knew things were different. It'd take some sort of miracle—or sudden maturation of post players—for the Griz to duplicate past success. But with Jamar on the court, anything seemed possible because he could do just about everything.
Now that he's done, there's a huge void for someone else to fill next year. This happens regularly in college athletics and, in solid programs like UM's, a new player usually emerges. But the reality is that Jamar was such a special talent that it may take two or three players to fill his sneakers.