The Sacramento State athletics media relations office had an opportunity to catch up recently with former Hornet basketball player Jameel Pugh. A 2009 inductee into the Sacramento State Men's Basketball Hall of Fame, the 2005 Sacramento State Senior Male Student-Athlete of the Year, a first team all-Big Sky Conference selection, and the runner-up at the 2005 ESPN College Slam Dunk Championship, Pugh earned a number of accolades during his Hornet tenure. The Sacramento native played for Sacramento State from 2003-05 and redshirted in 2002-03 after transferring from UMass. During his two seasons, the Hornets hosted a Big Sky Tournament home game each year and Pugh capped his career by averaging 15.0 points and 4.4 rebounds during his senior season. He went on to play professionally in the NBA Development League as well as overseas. Below is a transcript of the Q&A session with Pugh, which ranges from him talking about his playing days to what he is currently doing now.
Q: You transferred from UMass to Sacramento State prior to the 2002-03 season. What were some of the reasons you decided to become a Hornet?
A: "For me, it was about trust. I wanted to know the person I played for would support my endeavors on and off the court. I wanted to trust that the coach would help develop me as a man. I also wanted someone who would appreciate the talents I had and what I could bring to the team. I found all of that in Coach (Jerome) Jenkins, and came to realize I had a community of people that supported me both on and off the court."
Q: What are some of your fondest memories in a Sacramento State uniform?
A: "First one....Northern Arizona game on the road in 2005, Coach Jenkins pulls me and curses me out about my play. As soon as I sit on the bench, (teammate) E.J Harris gets in my face and curses me out as well. Coach later comes to me and asks, 'Are you ready to play Hornet basketball?' I didn't even answer, I just walked to the scorers table and checked into the game. Within four minutes, I hit four three pointers and put my team back in the game (the Hornets eventually won, 87-86). Second one....Montana State game on the road in 2005. I had a history of small injuries, and during practice a day before the game, I injured my elbow. Coach told me to sit out of pregame practice and warm up on my own on the side. Our trainer wrapped my elbow with tape before the game, and everyone was joking that I looked like a mummy. Coach told me before the game, 'Pugh, when you're hurt, I know you are going to play well. I worry when you aren't hurt.' I went on to score 26 points (in a 70-68 Hornet win)."
Q: You were named the world's best dunker in 2000, and the 33rd-best dunker of all time by Slam Magazine. What's it like to be blessed with that type of athleticism?
A: "It changed the trajectory of my life. Once I realized I had that gift at 13 years old, I knew the sky was the limit, literally."
Q: You won numerous dunk competitions during your career, and finished as the runner-up at the 2005 ESPN College Slam Dunk Championship. What were some of your favorite dunks to pull off?
A: "I could dunk from the free throw line, I could go between my legs, windmill or 360, but the dunk that always made me feel majestic was putting my entire forearm in the rim and hanging by my elbow. To me, that was just letting everyone know my hops are ridiculous."
Q: You were a 2009 inductee into the Sacramento State Men's Basketball Hall of Fame and the 2005 Sacramento State Senior Male Student-Athlete of Year, not to mention a first team all-Big Sky Conference selection among numerous other career highlights. How much pride do you take in all those accolades?
A: "To me, it was validation that if I worked hard, I would be rewarded. I loved being recognized by my peers for my basketball performance. But the award that meant the most to me was the Student-Athlete of the Year Award I received my senior year. I was not used to getting academic awards and when (Athletics Director) Dr. Terry Wanless presented that award to me during practice in front of my teammates, it validated me as a 'student athlete.' That was the first time I ever obtained a 3.0 grade point average, and it was a goal of mine that I worked hard to achieve."
Q: You played professionally in the NBA Development League, as well as Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. Tell us about that experience?
A: "The D-League experience was similar to Survivor, it seemed like people were getting cut every other day. Thank God I made the team (Dakota Wizards). Eventually, I was cut and went on to play overseas. It was such an amazing experience to see the world and play ball. The expectations were very high from the first day, and you are expected to be a leader both statistically and to your team. It was a challenge for me, but I did my best. My first game in Australia, I scored 40 points and had 20 rebounds. I would later score 54 points in a game, but we didn't win so it was frustrating. I met friends there who I will have for a lifetime, and some have already visited me here in the United States."
Q: What are your favorite aspects of the game of basketball?
A: "Winning and scoring. Simple."
Q: Do you still hit the hardwood from time to time?
A: "Yes, I get in the gym and still give out the business. I don't dunk much anymore but I can score in bunches. Its funny because most people assume I'm a football player or a post player, and when I start to handle the ball and shoot, they quickly realize I'm not just a casual hooper."
Q: You graduated from Sacramento State in 2005 with a child development degree. Tell us about some of the things you've done since graduation?
A: "I spent a lot of time after graduating trying to figure out what I wanted to do. I spent one year acting on a pilot show for HBO, I spent two years playing professional basketball, and I spent four years working in education management with the Sacramento City Unified School District. I also served one year on the City of Sacramento Planning Commission, representing District 5. Last year, I got my Executive Master of Leadership degree from USC, and graduated with honors. Finally, I found my passion in life which is producing documentary films. I recently produced a film titled 'Bouncing Back: A story of resilience', which is about former Sacramento State soccer player Lisa Wrightsman's battle to overcome cancer and a substance abuse problem. I am currently in production of a film titled 'Solving the Inequality', which is about how 2011 California State Teacher of the Year Dr. Kadhir Rajagopal is getting historically failing students to outperform state averages on standardized tests."
Q: We hear you are currently the executive director of XPose The Gap. Could you tell us about that?
A: "Xpose The Gap is a Los Angeles-based non-profit that specializes in film production and social impact documentaries. Our mission is to use media and technology to contribute to social change. I founded this nonprofit because Dr. Richard Callahan, my professor at USC, challenged each of us to use our leadership degree to make an impact on the world. He called it our Leadership Engagement. Through that program, I realized my passion is social causes and my talent was in filmmaking, but my training was in leadership. So this was the best way to combine those attributes. I see Xpose The Gap as a platform for previously silent voices to shout out to the world about their social impact story. I see it as a vehicle to bring people together and improve injustices - to inspire others and educate them. I have been very lucky as my work has led me to interview people such as former pro athletes Jalen Rose, Julius Erving, Joe Namath and Isaiah Thomas, current NBA players Stephen Curry and Nolan Smith, and ESPN sports analyst Jay Bilas. I am also proud of my work with Sacramento nonprofits like the Center For Innovative Community Solutions. Each day presents a new opportunity to tell a new story, but our organization needs support from those who believe in what we are doing. I would urge anyone who reads this to visit our website at www.XposeTheGap.com, watch our films, share on social media, and contribute. We need support to continue and produce dynamic social impact films."