Although Secaucus High School senior Jamling Lama is an accomplished soccer player and an excellent baseball player, his sport of choice has always been basketball.
“I guess I started playing when I was about four or five,” Lama said of basketball. “I have two older brothers [Sonam, now 32, and Pema, now 26] and they were the ones to teach me the game. I rebounded the ball for them when they shot and they did it for me also. They grew up in Hoboken and I would go and watch them play in the school yards. They would take me out with them some times to play.”
Sonam Lama, who played his high school basketball at St. Peter’s Prep, played professionally in the Southern Asia league and was a member of the Nepalian national team.
Pema played his basketball at Secaucus High.
“Basketball was always a favorite of mine,” Jamling Lama said. “I enjoy each sport I play, but I always tended to want to play basketball more.”
That love of the game has carried Lama throughout his high school days, so much so that he played varsity basketball for the Patriots since his freshman year.
Secaucus head boys’ basketball coach Tom Curry knew that Lama was a talented player since Lama’s younger days.
“I’ve had the chance to know him since third grade,” Curry said. “I taught him in physical education in Huber Street School. I knew then that we had a special kid. He’s been one of the most dedicated kids we had.”
Just how devoted was Lama to the sport of basketball? Try this on for size.
“He would go to the [Secaucus] Rec Center [recreation center] every day before school to get some shots up at 6:15 a.m.,” Curry said. “I don’t know how he got in there, but he was there every day. That’s what worked for Jam. He put in the work. Jam didn’t just become a good player. He worked for it.”
“It definitely helped me,” Lama said. “I could see the hard work was paying off.”
As Lama prepared for his senior year and last go-round with the Patriots’ basketball program, he had some concern – albeit a legitimate one – about the possibility of the season being canceled due to the coronavirus COVID-19 program.
“In the beginning of the year, I didn’t know if we were going to have a season,” Lama said. “But then I saw the schedule and it made me work even harder.”
Lama was in pursuit of Secaucus’ all-time scoring record in boys’ basketball, a mark of 1,266 set by Kenny Mack, the father of Lindsay Mack, the former Secaucus standout who currently plays for the FDU women’s basketball team. Kenny Mack played at St. Peter’s College in the 1990s after graduating from Secaucus High in 1986.
Without a full schedule because of COVID, Lama’s quest for the record was going to be a rugged one.
“Because of the COVID, I worked out a lot in the gym we set up in my garage,” Lama said. “My brothers and I worked out together in the gym. We would close the door, play loud music and get to work.”
Was there a preference in music?
“Every type of rap music,” Lama said. “We got the right rhythm going and got going to work.”
Lama also found the local basketball court to hoist up shots, as well as his ritual at the Rec Center.
Lama said that he didn’t even know about the record until the fifth game of the season. He didn’t do the math to figure out how many points he needed.
“I didn’t even know the number [Kenny Mack’s point total],” Lama said. “I just knew that I was going to play every game like it was my last one. I couldn’t take any chances.”
As the basketball season wound down to the precious last few contests, Lama made the most of his final games.
Lama scored 35 points in a 61-33 win over Harrison and added 34 in a heartbreaking one-point 65-64 loss to close rival Lyndhurst. Not a bad way to close out a career.
In the process, Lama surpassed Mack’s long-standing scoring record and ended his career with a total of 1,300 points on the nose.
“It’s amazing that record stood for so long,” Curry said.
For his efforts, Lama has been selected as the Hudson Reporter Athlete of the Week for the past week and the final such honoree for the winter sports campaign that just ended.
The wrestling, gymnastic and volleyball seasons begin this week.
Lama loved being the team’s point guard and having the ball constantly in his hands. He averaged 21.5 points per game in his final year.
“I like pushing the pace of the game,” Lama said. “I’m not looking to settle down and slow down the tempo. I want to push it every possession. If the ball is in my hands, I think my teammates know I’m going to make the right play. I’ve worked on every aspect of the game. I’m also getting to the basket more and getting fouled. I also make my free throws. I think I’m a better passer this year. I’ve improved on that, spreading the ball around.”
Lama also became a better rebounder, averaging nearly five rebounds per game.
“I set myself in position to get the ball and I locate it coming off the rim and where it’s been shot from,” Lama said. “A lot of it is instinct. I just know where the ball is going to be. It helps me to bring up the ball.”
Lama’s speed with the ball is unparalleled.
“He showed his ability to put the ball on the floor and go,” Curry said. “I think I just expected him to be the same consistent player he’s been for us for the last four years. Without a doubt, teams have to try to stop him.”
Curry said that Lama’s responsibilities differed this season for the Patriots, who finished the abbreviated season with an impressive 8-2 record.
“Last year, we relied on Jam to shoot more,” Curry said. “This year, I told him to go to the basket more. We didn’t want him hoisting up 3-pointers all game. We wanted to try to get him to the free throw line more. His 15-foot pull-up jump shot was unbelievable. With the dribble, he could go left, go right or right down the center of the court. If you leave him one-on-one, he’s a tough matchup.
Added Curry, “With our program, it all begins and ends with defense. Before this year, he really never had to take the defensive role, but this year, he had to and he ended up leading the team in steals. We gave him the opportunity to freelance defensively. He’s the kind of kid that I don’t have to coach every single play.”
No question, Curry is going to miss Lama.
“Without a doubt, he’s already sorely missed,” Curry said. “He’s one of those kids who you want your own kid to grow up like. He’s a tremendous person.”
Lama is also a tremendous student, carrying a 3.8 grade point average. He’s the president of the school’s student government and participates in a number of extracurricular clubs.
Lama is being recruited by a number of local colleges. He already expressed interest of staying close to home, so there are NCAA Division II and Division III schools knocking on his door. He has solid offers from a few local schools, so he will play college basketball next fall.
And Lama now owns a record that stood for 35 years.
“It’s a fitting way for him to end a great basketball career,” Curry said.
Lama is not done. He’s a tremendous baseball player as a pitcher and centerfielder.
“I honestly can’t wait for the baseball season to start,” Lama said. “It’s something we all missed out on last year. I know we’re going to work hard. I’m very excited about it.”
So is everyone in Secaucus. – Jim Hague
Jim Hague can be reached via e-mail at OGSMAR@aol.com