Who would have thought that a virus that stopped the world for a beat, and forced people into a new and restricted way of life, would result in something prolific. 

Kareem Jamar, a former University of Montana all-star player, is bringing his passion for basketball, his talents on the court, and his commitment to hard work to the youth of the Electric City. Strangely, it all began because of a global pandemic. 

You might recognize the name because Jamar has held his share of Montana sports headlines. The Venice, California native had four slam-dunk years playing basketball for the University of Montana Grizzlies. In addition to a string of accolades, while at UM, Jamar won two back-to-back Big Sky Championships and earned the honor of mid-major, All-American player not once, but twice. 

After college, Jamar left the Treasure State to play professional ball in Europe. When COVID-19 brought the world to a screeching halt, Jamar landed in Great Falls.

“I was in Ukraine during that time” Jamar explains. "My season got cut short and LA didn’t sound too attractive during a COVID situation on top of my love life bringing me to Great Falls.”

And, while COVID forced a change in plans, the seeds that were planted during that time are turning out to be very fruitful for the youth of Great Falls who want to learn the game of basketball. 

It all started with a basketball skills camp, but that camp set something special into motion. It ignited in Jamar a love for teaching and it was the very beginning of what’s known today as the Prolific Basketball Academy

“Basketball is a great game, and has done everything for me,” Jamar said.

Kareem Jamar “grew up” in a basketball gym. He credits his grandfather, Ray Anderson, for helping to spark the love of the game. Anderson would pick up seven-year-old Jamar and his older brother on Saturday mornings and take them to the local gym where Anderson would play pick-up games from mid morning till late in the evening. 

“And there was no leaving the gym,” Jamar recounts. “We would do small things outside in the park, but I kind of found myself not leaving the gym much. And that's kind of how I fell in love with [the game]. And I'm obviously forever indebted because basketball is honestly a great game and has done everything for me.” 

At a very young age, Jamar went from observing older players from the sidelines to playing on the neighborhood rec-league courts. From there, he springboarded onto a traveling team. At the young age of nine, he boarded a plane for the first time to play an out-of-state tournament with his team. 

“That's when you start realizing, okay, basketball can take [me] places and basketball can give [me] things that there’s no way I would've experienced otherwise,” he said. 

One of those places that basketball took him (maybe unexpectedly) was … to Montana. 

At the age of 17 Jamar was recruited to become a Griz. He was playing for a top-ranked high school program and still had plenty of time to be scouted for and scooped up by other programs, but Jamar made a verbal commitment to UM. And, he stayed loyal to that commitment and to recruiter Andy Hill, who not only was the first recruiter to offer him a place to play but was also a fierce advocate for Jamar as he fulfilled his high school academic requirements as well. 

That decision turned out well for him. “I was blessed to have made the right choice,” he said.

Credit: Mackenzie Kasper

Jamar had a most impressive career at UM. In fact, UM’s Grizzly Sports called him “one of the most prolific basketball players in school history.”

"He's just a great kid and he's really grown up his last four years at Montana," UM’s Head Coach Wayne Tinkle said about Jamar before his last game at UM. "The loyalty that he showed us throughout the recruiting process, and over his four years here, has been stellar. He's just a kid who has really developed both on and off the court at Montana. I couldn't be more proud of him. We are hoping for a strong finish, and we know that his future is bright."

Coach Tinkle certainly was correct. His future was (and still is!) bright. 

Jamar went on to play professionally in Europe for seven years. What some might not know is that he actually made the choice to stop playing basketball … so he could do something he felt was far more fulfilling … teaching others the game that he himself loves so much. 

"Relating with kids comes naturally for me," Jamar said. "So, that's when I know, okay, this might be my thing."

When COVID rooted Jamar in Great Falls, it felt like the world’s basketball courts might never reopen. When they finally did, he took a leap and decided to host a youth basketball camp here in Great Falls.  

“I always wanted to do a camp, but at that time, I [needed to be pushed to do it.]” Jamar said.  “And then I did it, and I really enjoyed it. It was the first time I ever enjoyed something a lot, like at a high level outside of [playing] basketball.” 

That first camp was the start of what is now the Prolific Basketball Academy. After the camp, the interest and the momentum for his services, in his words, “sort of blew up.” 

“Coaching, just, I don't know, I guess it just came naturally,” he said in that humble sort of way that you know he’s downplaying his talents. “Relating with kids comes naturally for me. So, that's when I knew, okay, this might be my thing.”

So, he did what he knew from his own youth. He found a gym and he created a space for young people to learn basketball, and all that comes with it: creating community, building character and bolstering confidence.

Jamar loved training young people, but he also missed playing himself. So, when the chance arose to once again return as a professional player in Europe, he decided to give it another shot. In 2021 he laced back up his own shoes - this time for a team in Austria. 

Kareem Jamar playing for the Kapfenberg Bulls v Uniclub Casino - Juventus on September 13, 2021. Credit: Basketball Champions League

But, while he was there, he found that his heart was back in Great Falls. He kept thinking about working with kids, coaching, and he couldn’t help but see the game in a new light. 
It was clear to him, he knew where he needed to be and what he wanted to be doing.

"I decided to give up the game by teaching it and giving the next generation a chance to reach their dreams like other coaches did for me," he said.

He returned to Great Falls and committed to devoting his talent to the Prolific Basketball Academy.

“I decided to give the game up by teaching it and giving the next generation a chance to reach their dreams like other coaches did for me,” he said. 

The momentum grew quickly. He went from one-on-one skill training, to working with small groups of kids, to working with large groups of kids. Now, Prolific Basketball Academy works with kids from age 7 all the way up to high school students preparing for the college level. 

“I always just thought I’d be teaching skills, but I got talked into coaching a travel team.” Jamar said, explaining how Prolific expanded. “But, I ended up doing it and the team got really good, very quickly and we started winning some tournaments out of state. That team led to starting other teams and now we have about six teams - both boys and girls.”

And, he’s most proud of his expansion into working with girls teams. In the past year, 35-40 percent of the youth he works with are girls. He also serves as the assistant coach for CMR High School Girls Basketball team alongside Head Coach Haley Vining (who also happens to be his girlfriend and former Lady Griz player.) 

“I was raised by a single mother,” Jamar said. “Helping young girls be strong women means a lot to me. And I think you can do that through sports. I think that's the easiest way to do that.”

Kareem coaches an 8th grade girls team, and they won the 2024 Great Falls Winter Classic 8th grade championship on January 7, 2024. Credit: Prolific 8th Grade Girls Facebook Page

“I want to create a place to go to – like what I had as a kid – that is there for you if you need it ..."

Turns out, Great Falls is a town with a big interest in basketball, but it also lacks the facilities that will help the sport grow and provide competitive opportunities for kids and adults alike. So, the Prolific Basketball Academy aims to change all that. 

After running into a fair number of roadblocks in finding gym space, Jamar has been able to use one private court for his academy. 

And, while it’s working for the nearly 200 kids a week who use the gym, Jamar hopes for something more expansive that benefits the broader community. Much like the gym Jamar grew up in, he hopes to build a facility in Great Falls that can accommodate rec league play and host tournaments – one with at least three or four courts. 

 “I want to create a place to go to –  like what I had as a kid – that is there for you if you need it, if you need to get away from problems, or if you are just bored, or, really,  anything. There is a gym you can go to and simply shoot around,” Jamar explains. 

He’s envisioning a facility that’s open to the community, but is also large enough to easily host tournaments – with at least three or four courts – keeping families local instead of always requiring them to travel to play. It would also serve the broader community, offering space for adult rec leagues, etc. 

“Honestly, basketball probably helped save my life,” he said. “Just growing up in a certain time in a certain neighborhood, [basketball]  kept me out of trouble. If I didn’t have it, I probably would be something that I wouldn’t be proud of, you know what I mean? So, I guess my job now is to return the favor to other kids in a different way.” 

Something tells us the hard work and dedication required for such a project won’t be a problem for Jamar. What’s next surely has the potential to be as prolific as what he’s started. 

Great Falls is now home to a TBL (The Basketball League) team called The Great Falls Electric. Kareem Jamar plays with the team as they launch their season in March of this year. The Great Falls Electric is competing in the TBL’s Northwest Division against other teams in Oregon and Washington. The first season is comprised of 24 games with 12 of them being home games, played at Swarthout Fieldhouse at Great Falls High School. Jamar credits his decision to play  – in part – to serve as a role model for the kids he coaches and trains.