The Santa Barbara High School varsity basketball teams enjoyed a post-season treat last Friday when alumnus Jamaal Wilkes showed up in JR Richards Gymnasium to share stories and words of wisdom. Don Ford (class of 1971), Victor Bartolome (class of 1967) and Holly Ford Emerson (class of 1984), along with former SBHS coach Jack Trigueiro and former L.A. Lakers coach Bill Bertka, joined Wilkes in the visit.
The group gathered at Santa Barbara High School to celebrate Wilkes, who in April was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Next season, his No. 52 jersey will be retired by the Lakers, making him only the eighth player in Lakers history to receive this honor.
In addition to talking with students, the group met with SBHS Principal John Becchio and representatives of the Santa Barbara High School Education Foundation to tour the high school and discuss the planned renovation of JR Richards Gymnasium.
Wilkes, who graduated from SBHS in 1970, went on to UCLA, where he was a two-time All American under coach John Wooden. He then spent 12 years in the NBA, winning a championship his rookie year (1975) with the Golden State Warriors, and then three more (in 1980, 1982 and 1985) playing alongside Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as a member of the legendary Lakers team known as Showtime.
“This is where it all began,” he told the SBHS basketball players, referring to his senior year at SBHS when he led the Dons into the CIF Finals and was named CIF Player of the Year. “Pay attention to your coaches and teammates, because the lessons you learn right here in this gym are going to shape the person you become.”
“Jamaal was a great teammate,” Trigueiro recalled. “Apart from being about as talented as they come, he was a role model with regard to his attitude and work ethic.”
Wooden echoed this sentiment in an interview with the New York Post in 1985. When asked to describe his ideal player, he replied: “I would have the player be a good student, polite, courteous, a good team player, a good defensive player and rebounder, a good inside player and outside shooter. Why not just take Jamaal Wilkes and let it go at that?”
Wilkes expressed his enthusiasm for Santa Barbara High School and the renovation of JR Richards Gymnasium, a project being undertaken jointly by the Santa Barbara High School Education Foundation and the Santa Barbara Unified School District.
“It’s been a long time since I’ve been [at SBHS], and this gym is looking pretty worn,” Wilkes said. “I’m happy to know the school has such strong leadership and also good support from parents and the community.”
Built in the 1950s, JR Richards Gymnasium is one of the most used facilities on the SBHS campus and long overdue for repair. The floor has been sanded so often that nail-heads peak above the surface, ceiling tiles are falling down, most windows no longer open and the scoreboards are known to quit at critical points in a game.
The SBHS Education Foundation has launched a capital campaign to raise $800,000 to renovate the gymnasium, and the Santa Barbara Unified School District has committed $550,000 from Measure Q2010 bond funds to the project. The foundation is raising the balance of the funds from parents, alumni and community members. Already, $100,000 in private donations has been pledged.
The gym renovation project, which is scheduled to be completed during the summer of 2013, will involve replacing the floor and ceiling; upgrading the lights with new LED technology; repairing the windows to improve lighting and ventilation; and installing state-of-the-art scoreboards, a new sound system, and new basketball standards and backboards.
“This project benefits every child at our school as well as our entire community,” Becchio said. “It’s not just about athletics; it’s about all the kids who pass through here and learn valuable lessons about friendship and teamwork and integrity and commitment. It’s about helping our students become people like Jamaal Wilkes.”
Click here for more information about the SBHS Education Foundation and the campaign to renovate JR Richards Gymnasium.
— Katie Jacobs represents the Santa Barbara High School Education Foundation.