The year Jamar Briscoe sat out after transferring to Charlotte from North Carolina Central was an excruciatingly long one.
The Cardinal Gibbons grad and 2008 Baltimore Sun second-team All-Metro selection was the second-leading freshman scorer in the country at NCCU. Briscoe was confident he could play at a higher level, and the 49ers – members of the Atlantic 10 – provided that opportunity. While nervousness had rarely been an issue for the former Crusaders star before, Briscoe's long-awaited Charlotte debut stirred up that unfamiliar feeling.
"The game I was most nervous for was actually the first game I played. It was an exhibition against Queens," Briscoe said of the Division II school. "I remember dribbling the ball one time and the air just went out from under me. That was the game I was really the most nervous. After that game, everything else just came into the flow. I just followed my natural instincts."
For the majority of Briscoe's sophomore season with the 49ers, those natural instincts served him exceedingly well. The 5-foot-10, 165-pound point guard from Cherry Hill scored 16 points (4-for-6 on 3-pointers), dished out five assists and collected three steals in Charlotte's 94-57 win over Queens. Briscoe followed that up with a 30-point performance in the 49ers' season-opening loss to Gardner-Webb.
While Briscoe had hoped for more team success than Charlotte experienced in its 10-20 season, first-year 49ers coach Alan Major was pleased with his point guard's sophomore campaign."I'd say he had a really good year," Major said. "He's in a tough position. Our guard play in terms of ball-handling and guys we had to rely on to take care of the ball, make plays and get things going in the offense, we really had two guys to do that. Just with our limited numbers, it really puts almost an unfair kind of pressure to ask a guy to handle the ball, take care of the ball and take great shots, defend at a high level and play 35-plus minutes a game. With that, and it being his first year on the floor with us, he had his ups and downs, like some other guys did. But … for what we asked him to do, I thought he had a very good season."
Briscoe, who started 28 games, averaged 12.8 points, 3.9 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.5 steals. He was instrumental in leading Charlotte to three significant upsets: a 49-48 win over then-No. 7 Tennessee, a double-overtime triumph at Georgia Tech, and a 66-62 home win over Xavier.
"Beating Tennessee, No. 7 in the nation, that's memorable," Briscoe said. "I don't plan on having kids, but I can tell my brother's grandkids and their children. I'll always remember that. … It was a great experience, playing under those lights. I wasn't nervous. Everybody wants that spotlight. That's why you work hard – to win."
Briscoe, better known as 'Deuce' to those closest to him, may have been a first-year player for the 49ers, but almost immediately he emerged as the team's most vocal leader. Major said Briscoe took his role as the floor general to heart, working hard in the weight room, directing the offense, and keep things loose off the court.
"He's kind of infectious," Major said. "He probably has got our team's best sense of humor. He's one of the funniest guys. As you get to spend more and more time around him, a lot of times college kids don't get adult jokes, then they start laughing about 30 seconds later. The funny thing about Deuce is that he gets adult jokes. He has this way of just throwing out a zinger, you throw one back, and you both walk out of the office laughing. That type of personality is great for your team and a good way of keeping things loose."
Briscoe has spent the past several months in Charlotte, attending both sessions of summer school and working hard on improving his game. He had plenty of company on the court this offseason, including one well-known Charm City legend.
"I've been working out with one of Baltimore's greats – Shawnta Rogers, just doing work with Nut," Briscoe said. "He's been coming down here to work out with me. [Former Towson Catholic and Virginia Tech star] Malcolm Delaney had moved to Atlanta, and he came up and worked out with me. And [former Charlotte star and first-round NBA draft pick] Rodney White, I worked out with him the last two months of the summer. I've been lifting weights. I've been around some good natives from home keeping me focused, away from the city."
For the upcoming season, Major is looking for Briscoe to improve his offensive efficiency. The 49ers coach hopes the point guard has more 5-for-9 performances than 5-for-12 performances. Charlotte has added more ball-handlers to its roster, alleviating some pressure from Briscoe. But the only thing that matters to Briscoe about this year is simple.
"I want to win, man," Briscoe said. "I'm trying to win. Like I said when I came here, I want to win. I know I've got the chance to play in the A-10, but I want to play in the Atlantic 10 championship. Everybody's got a chance – every team in the conference. But I want to win it, man. I really do."
The Sweet 16 is an occasional series profiling the 16 best Division I college basketball players from the Baltimore area. Players were selected based on prior accomplishments and projections for the upcoming season.
Previous Sweet 16 selections: Dylon Cormier, Loyola
U.S. Presswire photo of Jamar Briscoe by Geoff Burke / Jan. 5, 2011