Jamaree On It

Former Palma High School star Jamaree Bouyea of the University of San Francisco drives past UNLV’s Josh Baker in the Dons’ 83-62 win over the Rebels in December. Bouyee led the team with 30 points in that game.

College basketball is making a comeback on the West Coast. The Gonzaga Bulldogs, a small program out of the lesser-known West Coast Conference, made history as they entered the season as the top ranked team in the country. The Zags, who fell one game short of a national title last season, lead a group of a handful of WCC programs that are on the rise.

Another of those programs, the University of San Francisco Dons, happens to be led by 2017 Palma High School in Salinas graduate Jamaree Bouyea. A grad student in his fifth year with the Dons, Bouyea is averaging nearly 20 points per game, leading the Dons in scoring. The team boasts an 12-1 record to open the season.

The Dons, coming off a recent win over Arizona State, are ranked 36th in the country and are threatening to crack the AP Top 25 for the first time in 40 years.

“It’s very exciting,” says Bouyea, a 6-foot-2-inch guard. “We’ve worked really hard and it’s starting to pay off. Our goal is to win our conference and make it to the NCAA tournament.”

Just a few years ago, Bouyea was Palma’s starting point guard, leading the Chieftans against the likes of Soquel, Alisal and Pacific Grove. Now he has his sights on the Big Dance, the annual NCAA tournament, held each year in March and more commonly referred to as March Madness.

Schools like USF, with an enrollment of approximately 10,000 students, are matched up against schools three and four times their size. Teams and players you’ve hardly heard of from conferences like the WCC are suddenly playing on national television against some of the top programs in the country.

It’s a place where a player like Bouyea can make a name for himself on a national stage.

“We’ve still got a lot of work ahead of us to accomplish our goal,” he says. “Sure it’s exciting to think about playing in the tournament, but we just need to take it one game at a time and hopefully in the end it works out.”

So far, things have been working out quite well. In early December, Bouyea put up 30 points in a 21-point win over University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and followed it with 27 in another win over Fresno State a few days later. On the strength of those efforts, Bouyea secured WCC Conference Player of the Week honors in two consecutive weeks.

Bouyea, who was very lightly recruited despite a decorated career at Palma, has enjoyed squaring off against bigger programs that didn’t make an attempt to recruit him. Over the last several years, Bouyea has brought USF right to the top of the collegiate basketball programs in the Bay Area, capping it off with first team All-Conference honors last season.

“It’s nice to be right there with the bigger schools that didn’t recruit me, but this is a team game,” says Bouyea, the Dons’ all-time leader in games played. “I believe in this group. We have a chance to do something special, but it’s not going to be easy.”

The top half of the WCC is loaded. Aside from Gonzaga, currently ranked fourth in the country, the Dons will have to square off against the likes of Brigham Young University (BYU is ranked 25th in the nation), St. Mary’s, and Santa Clara when they open WCC conference play the first week of January.

Bouyea, who hasn’t beaten Gonzaga in nine tries over the last five years, knows the path to the promised land runs through Spokane. “Gonzaga can play with anybody in the country,” he says. “So if we can beat them, we will know we can play with anybody, too.”

Bouyea and the Dons will find out soon enough. Although their Jan. 1 date with St. Mary’s was postponed, as well as their Jan. 6 matchup with the Zags. If they can navigate the conference schedule (when it happens) and make it to the dance, Bouyea will have a chance to cement his legacy at USF.

“It’s nice to even be mentioned in the same breath as some of the greatest Dons ever,” says Bouyea, who is third all-time in steals and seventh in assists. “But in order to do that, we need to win and play deep into March, and that’s what we’re focused on.”

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