Technically, what Jim Cleamons primarily busies himself with these days could be classified as motivational speaking. Sprinkle in some education, life lessons and a desire to pass down wisdom to the next generation, and just one more ingredient is needed to draw in the full attention of the 10-time NBA champion, Linden graduate and Ohio State product.
Don’t forget the basketball.
“If there’s a ball bouncing and a young person who wants to better themselves, I usually find it or it finds me,” Cleamons said.
This Saturday, he will also lead him to Nationwide Arena, where Cleamons will coach the Ohio team participating in the 2022 HBCU College Basketball All-Star Game. The event, which is part of a weekend that features networking, entertainment options and celebrity appearances all geared around providing opportunities for members of HBCU communities.
The centerpiece is Saturday’s game featuring a team of HBCU all-stars against a team understood of players with Ohio ties. The latter team is scheduled to include Cedric Russell, an Ohio State guard this past season who spent his first four seasons at Louisiana.
Cleamons will coach the Ohio team. Norfolk State coach Robert Jones, who has reached consecutive NCAA Tournaments, will lead the HBCU All-Stars.
“I’m happy to be involved,” Cleamons said. “Certainly it’s something I believe is worthwhile and hopefully informational with the young people I’m going to be associated with for a couple of days. I’ll be able to talk with them about their pursuit of happiness in their lives regardless of what happens athletically with their careers. Hopefully I can share some things that they will enjoy and help them in their pursuit.”
Now 72, Cleamons graduated from Linden in 1967, signed with Ohio State and averaged 18.5 points during his four seasons with the Buckeyes. He converted from forward to point guard as a senior and helped lead the Buckeyes to a Big Ten championship before being taken by the Los Angeles Lakers with the No. 13 pick in the NBA draft. He won a championship as a rookie with the Lakers, played nine years in the NBA and then began a lengthy coaching career.
Before officially leaving the profession in 2017, Cleamons accumulated nine championships as an assistant coach. Since then, he has returned to Columbus, where he has stayed involved with the game in part by running what he calls “enrichment programs” prior to the start of the high school season.
“I love the sport of basketball,” he said. “I received a college education. I’ve seen places in the entire world and done things I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to do otherwise. I hope it’s made me a better person, a smarter person, a more giving person because I want to continue to share these experiences with others.”
That mantra echoes the purpose of this game, which has been resurrected and brought to Columbus after a 17-year hiatus. The game is the brainchild of John Pace, CEO of the Classic for Columbus, an Ohio-based non-profit that also stages a football game between two HBCU programs. The last time the game was played, it was held in Cleveland.
Now it’s in Cleamons’ hometown, and he’s hoping for a good crowd.
“I would really encourage that the community comes out and backs this event,” he said. “I think the young people who are going to participate want to put on a show for them. Hopefully it’s one that will be memorable and enjoyable. That’s the type of atmosphere I’m hoping is present on the 23’rd so we can all walk away saying thank you for a wonderful opportunity.”