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Celebrating Our Heritage: Jerome Kersey Part 2

Throughout his career, Kersey was described as a great natural athlete with outstanding leaping ability, but he disagrees that those attributes were natural. "I worked at being an athlete. Truth is, I didn't have all that great a vertical leap, but I learned a few tricks; it's all in the timing."

For example, Blazer fans can't count the number of times Kersey out jumped a much taller opponent, making it appear that he could jump out of the building.

"I learned that the trick was to follow the ball as soon as it left the referee's hand. Other guys wait until the ball reaches its full height and then jump. But if you follow the flight of the ball on the way up, you'll get there quicker," he said.

At Bluestone High School in Clarksville, Kersey was a 6-foot 3 point guard who could score and run the court. But by the time he reached his senior season, Clarksville had lost all of its big men, so Kersey was forced to play center.

When Kersey graduated, not many Division 1 colleges were interested in a 6-foot-3 center, so he didn't get that many scholarship offers. However, Longwood College (now a university) gave him one, largely on the fact that he averaged 18 points and snared 8 rebounds his senior season at Bluestone High.

When he arrived at college, though, Kersey had filled out his bony frame with beef and had grown to a height of 6-foot-6. When Longwood Coach Cal Luther, who recruited him, saw him at practice, he asked an assistant, "Who's that guy? I recruited a guard and got a forward."

By the end of his freshman season at Longwood, Kersey was a muscular 215 pounds and banging his opponents around like a young Carl Malone in a Scottie Pippen body. Kersey was growing on his coach in more ways than one. By his junior year, he was 6-foot-7, and wound up playing center at Longwood.

His four-year career was outstanding. He set school records for points (1,756), rebounds (1,162), steals (248) and blocked shots (142).

As a senior, he averaged 19.6 points and 14.8 rebounds per game, leading all rebounders in NCAA Division II. That year, while shooting 57 percent from the floor, he also was an NABC First Team Division II All-American, and player of the year in the Virginia College Division and the Mason-Dixon Conference.

Jerome was selected to Longwood's Sports Hall of Fame in 2005, and he completed two courses to get his degree from the school in May of 2006, honoring a promise to his grandmother.

Despite these many honors, most NBA scouts weren't interested in a 6-foot-7 small college center. So Kersey, without an official invite, went to Portsmouth, Virginia for a post-college tournament in which pro scouts took notes. He only got to play because one of the invited players didn't show up. But he became the leading rebounder and an all-star team selection at the tournament and caught the eye of then-Blazer scout Bucky Buckwalter.

One of Kersey's signature characteristics is never quitting on a loose ball. Dozens of times, Blazer fans have watched him chase down an opponent on a fast break, catching him at the basket and blocking his layup into the stands.

He played with reckless abandon, recalled Buckwalter, "and you just couldn't take your eyes off a player who hustles that much."

Kersey told writer Kerry Eggers for his 1991 book, "Blazer Profiles," that he admired guys like former Boston Celtics star Dave Cowens who weren't afraid to get down on the floor and scarp for the ball.

"A lot of guys have skills, but who is going to be the guy out there running down loose balls and diving on the floor? I've always figured if you can't play 110 percent, there's no use in playing."

Kersey told Eggers that he believes his coach at Longwood, Cal Luther, had a drill in practice called "Put a Lid On It," that helped remind him that no break-away layup by an opponent is a sure thing.

"In the drill, you'd have to cross half court on every fast break situation or he'd make you run sprints." Kersey told Eggers. "I've gotten a lot of blocks and hustle baskets of my own because I thought about that."

As a result of his hustle and great effort in the tournaments at Portsmouth, the Blazers drafted Kersey the following June in the second round (46th pick) of the 1984 NBA draft.

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