The following fall, Lamar was supposed to attend the University of Las Vegas. Things did not go as planned. After a Sports Illustrated article questioned the validity of his standardized test scores, UNLV administrators – already facing numerous NCAA sanctions for recruiting violations – decided to withdraw his scholarship.
““They said it was best for me to leave the school, and they had my release papers,” he said. “If they didn’t want to fight for me, I’d sign them. I was better off.”
Suddenly, the nation’s best high school player had no place to play.
Thousands of miles away, Jim Harrick, former coach of UCLA, was building his coaching staff at his new home, the University of Rhode Island. Harrick hired Jerry DeGregorio as an assistant coach, not knowing that DeGregorio had coached Lamar during his senior year of high school. Harrick had also met Lamar during a recruiting trip to UCLA years earlier, and liked him. (In a strange coincidence, Harrick was fired from UCLA on November 6th, Lamar’s birthday.)
When Lamar heard that DeGregorio – who he had lived with, and referred to as “Pops,” – was at Rhode Island with Harrick, he knew where he wanted to be.
“Coach Harrick was there, Jerry was there,” he said. “This was the obvious choice. This is home for me.”
After having to redshirt a season, Lamar began his college career with the same impact he made in high school.
“The first day he’s playing,” said Harrick, “the first day of practice, I just said, ‘Wow. This guy is something.’”
Harrick would grow to respect Lamar as more than a basketball player.
“I’d bring him up to the house and we’d have dinner, and we’d just sit and talk,” Harrick recalled. “My wife would take him in there and talk to him. One night, he even asked me to stay all night at my house, and one night, he did, and he stayed all night. He’d never been, probably, in a home like that. In a situation like that. My wife and I just gave him some tender loving care. To this day, we’re just great, great, great friends. He’s just a tremendous young guy.”
In his only season of college basketball, Lamar led Rhode Island to the Atlantic-10 championship, beating Temple, 62-59, with a last second three-pointer. The NBA was next.