Archdeacon: Jamaicans add spice — and height — to Sinclair basketball

How’s this for a couple of phone calls that were good in their timing and their fortune?

Mark Roberts — who does basketball-driven missionary work in Jamaica for the Center Pointe Christian Church on Hamilton-Mason Road in Liberty Township — said he made an out-of-the-blue call to Sinclair Community College basketball coach Jeff Price a while back:

“I was like, ‘Hey, you don’t know me from Adam, but I’ve got this 6-foot-7 Jamaican kid and he’s pretty good.’”

He said Price listened to his pitch about Nicolay Bailey and finally was convinced to take a look.

Later, Roberts said he got an unexpected call from Price:

“He said, ‘My big man just transferred to Tiffin. You got any big men down there, too?’ ”

Roberts laughed as he remembered his response:

“I said, ‘Well…How does 6-foot -11 sound?’ ”

Price grinned as he recalled that exchange: “Normally when I get a call like this, it’s, ‘Hey, I know a 5-foot-11 kid who would be good for you.’ So when someone says 6-foot-11, it tends to keep me on the line a little longer.”

Price has long shown a knack for getting a good read on something before he sees it, but he had some hints in this case. The player’s nickname at Old Harbour High School in Jamaica had been “The Mountain.”

Even better was his real name:

Javell Redwood.

That’s right. Redwood — like the world’s tallest trees.

“Right away he was interested, even though he hadn’t seen him play,” Roberts said.

And that’s why the newest rendition of Sinclair basketball now has added height and a Jamaican lilt.

The Tartan Pride — who already have scrimmaged Wright State-Lake, the University of Dayton club team and Glenville State in West Virginia and finish their exhibition schedule Monday at Guilford College in North Carolina — open their season at home Nov. 4 against Henry Ford Community College.

Price said while both Redwood and Bailey are “raw talents” and recipients of partial scholarships, they will see considerable action this season.

Roberts went to watch his Jamaican proteges play in the scrimmage with WSU-Lake in Celina.

“It was amazing,” he said. “It made my heart pound.”

Credit: Lisa Powell

Credit: Lisa Powell

For him — as much as the players — it was a dream come true.

He said his church has been doing work in Jamaica for a decade and a half. The first time he went he fell in love with the place and now has made a half-dozen trips.

About six years ago he said his church partnered with the Kentucky-based Herko Family Mission and decided to start a basketball program in Old Harbour.

“I was sitting around one night with Dennis Herko — he’s from Lexington and is a huge UK fan — and he said, ‘What if we had a basketball camp? It would be a way to get kids out of gangs, away from drugs and off the streets. It would be a place that’s safe to go and fun.’

“I thought it was a great idea and we got started.”

Roberts contacted various businesses in the area — he lives in West Chester and works in sales — and the group raised $65,000.

Partnered with the local Old Harbour Christian Church and its pastor, Ricardo Edwards, who is a basketball coach, they built an outdoor court, complete with lighting and team benches.

Three summers ago they put on their first basketball camp, which drew 125 kids and was a rousing success. Each year the program has grown and now various areas from around the island are sending top players to take part.

Roberts said the camp instructors have included an assistant coach from Cincinnati Christian School, an assistant coach with the Xavier women’s team, a couple of former college players and himself.

He said the idea not only is about spreading the word of the Lord through basketball, but about developing some players enough so they can go to college, get an education and hopefully return to the island to set an example and mentor other youth.

“The whole goal is that they come back to Jamaica and pour it all into the kids there,” Roberts said. “Tell them what they need to do and the kind of life they need to live. Show them that if you put work into it, there is something better out there.”

Guided by God

Redwood grew up in historic Spanish Town Jamaica and then moved to Old Harbour, where he met Bailey in high school.

“Coming up I played cricket,” he said. “But when I was 16, a coach saw me and said he wanted me to play basketball.”

Although there have been some Jamaican-born basketball players who have made a splash in the sport — Patrick Ewing is a Hall of Famer who starred at Georgetown University and with the New York Knicks, Jerome Jordan played for the Knicks and the Brooklyn Nets, Vashil Fernandez was a standout at Valparaiso University and led the NCAA in blocked shots in 2016 — Redwood said he knew little about the sport before he began to play.

He said he never had a pair of basketball shoes until he was 17 — he turned 20 a month ago — and still has never owned a basketball.

Bailey was introduced to the game in the eighth grade, played for Jamaica’s under-17 national team and averaged 40 points and 20 rebounds his final year in high school.

At the summer camp, Bailey caught the eye of coaches who told him he had a chance to play college basketball.

“They said God told them to help me ‘cause I was a good kid,” he said the other day as he sat outside the athletic offices at Sinclair.

Roberts said neither player had the appropriate grades or had taken the necessary placement tests to get them into an NCAA Division I program.

“Sinclair made a lot of sense because it has developmental classes, so they can ease their way into a college situation and not be killed in the classroom,” he said. “I can’t say enough good things about Sinclair and what it does for students.

“And Coach Price does a tremendous job developing them as players and young men.”

Price said Roberts checked them out first:

“He researched us and found out we have a pretty good basketball program and we offer a great opportunity to get an education. He saw our program is based on the 3 Cs: classroom, competition and community service. He thought this would be a good place for them.”

‘A real adventure’

“Can I speak Jamaican or do I have to speak American?” Redwood said with a grin when he began the interview. “People here say I talk too fast and they can’t understand.”

He and Bailey, who turns 20 next month, already have become two of the more popular students on campus.

Redwood, who has no car, lives with another player in a Grafton Avenue apartment. Bailey lives with a host family in West Chester and gets rides to his downtown Dayton school every day from a businessman who works up here.

“It’s a God thing,” is the way Roberts explained the man’s generosity.

Roberts said eventually he would like to see the pair advance to a four-year school, preferably a Christian school “like Cedarville or Anderson or someplace like that.”

Redwood relishes the possibilities: “Where I come from, it’s a small place and we don’t get to see things like this. Hopefully, one day I can play at a Division I or II school. If not, I hope I can pursue a career. Maybe in the culinary arts. I really like to cook.

“This whole thing is a real adventure for both of us.”

It does come with some challenges, though. He said he was cold the first couple of weeks when he got here. And now as winter approaches, both players have contemplated snow.

Neither has seen it.

“The first year I might say it’s pretty,” Bailey grinned. “But I’m pretty sure I’m not gonna like it. I don’t think people here even like it.”

Just like his coach, he’s got a pretty good read on something he hasn’t yet seen.

About the Author