Some shadows are harder to escape than others.
Such are the ones cast by fathers who became household names who blazed a trail you’re now taking.
In the case of Lobo sophomore guard Jamal Mashburn Jr., who transferred to UNM this season to follow his former coach Richard Pitino from Minnesota, there is no reason to try to escape those shadows at all, even while trying to make a name for yourself.
“I never get sick of people asking about my dad. That’s my best friend,” Mashburn Jr. said, referring to the obvious association most college basketball fans make between him and his father of the same name . Jamal Mashburn was both an NBA All Star and a college great at Kentucky prior to that.
“I wouldn’t be the young man I am today, or the man I’m going to be without him — his guidance, his knowledge and his wisdom.”
On the basketball front, those genes certainly don’t hurt, either.
While the younger Mashburn isn’t the same size as his dad — he’s a 6-foot-2, 185-pound guard while his 48-year-old dad’s playing days had him listed at 6-8, 240 — there is no denying hoops is a major part of the DNA.
While prominent Miami basketball trainer Ronnie Taylor works regularly with Mashburn Jr., so does dad — who for the purposes of this week’s session with Albuquerque media didn’t get a say in the following scouting report of a hypothetical father/son game:
“If we play one on one, I’d beat him,” Mashburn Jr. said with a smile. “He’s trying to get back in shape so he can keep up with my speed.”
Keeping up with the younger Mashburn is hard to do, says Pitino — a decade into own quest down a college basketball coaching path his famous father took.
Pitino started recruiting Mashburn Jr. when the player was a high school freshman. Mashburn says the decision was easy to follow him to New Mexico.
“He’s always been honest,” Mashburn Jr. said of Pitino. “I’m all about honesty. He shoots it to you straight, so (it was) a no-brainer I was coming with him.”
Playing behind All-American candidate guard Marcus Carr last season at Minnesota, Mashburn Jr. averaged 5.2 points in the Gophers’ first 17 games. When the team that was ranked as a high as No. 15 in the country earlier in the season got hit with several injuries — forcing the freshman into extended playing time in the middle of Big Ten play — he seized the opportunity, averaging 12.4 points over his final 12 games.
And between his obvious skills and the experience in the Big Ten and with Pitino, Mashburn Jr. is going to have a lot on his shoulders in helping with the Lobo rebuild.
“He knows how much I value his loyalty,” Pitino said. “It’s deeper than you’re just one of our players. Like, that’s family. And I’m empowering him to be a big voice. …
“He’s so driven. He acts like a pro. Obviously his father taught him how to act, but he walks in every single day with a purpose. He’s low-maintenance; very grateful. As a coach you have a lot of good days, you have a lot of bad days; just challenging. And when a guy like that decides to follow you — believes in you — it makes you proud.”
Mashburn says since he’s been at UNM, he’s worked hard on every facet of his game. It’s something he sees, and appreciates, in his head coach, too.
“Same with me, year by year you want to get better,” said Mashburn Jr. “That’s what he’s doing as well as a coach, … getting better at different things.”
The player says he sees a new, “lighter” Pitino so far at UNM, something the coach seemed to confirm on Friday saying he feels “rejuvenated” since being hired to turn around the Lobos.
“It was sad to see him (let) go from there,” Mashburn said, “but we’ve got a great opportunity here to make the most of it.”