Excitedly, Jared Billups actually made his verbal commitment last week to join the Siena men’s basketball program.
Then, the 6-foot-5 wing player from Crofton, Maryland, mostly kept that information to himself as he waited to publicly reveal his decision Monday with a social-media post.
The significance to Monday?
It was “Kobe Bryant Day,” which is an official designation in Los Angeles and Orange County — and an unofficial one throughout the basketball community — in honor of the former Los Angeles Lakers star who died earlier this year in a helicopter crash. During his NBA career, Bryant wore Nos. 8 and 24, so Monday’s date — 8/24 — serves as a fitting one for a tribute.
Billups — who counts former NBA great Chauncey Billups as a cousin — said he hadn’t told many people why he wanted to announce his college commitment on Monday, but that he wanted to offer his pledge to join the Saints once he’s graduated from Maryland’s McDonogh School on the date featuring his childhood idol’s uniform numbers.
“That’s the real reason,” Jared Billups said. “Growing up, that’s all you saw on television — Kobe Bryant this, Kobe Bryant that. He was a major inspiration for me. I have two or three of his jerseys.”
Siena was in the process of recording a blowout win against Quinnipiac last January when news of Bryant’s death started to circulate. Several Saints from last season’s team, which finished 20-10 and won a MAAC regular-season championship, list Bryant as their favorite player.
“When it happened, that was unreal,” Billups said of Bryant’s death. “I thought someone had to be joking. But it was real, and it was tough times. I think we all realized after that, though, to appreciate the game more, rather than to always be comparing.”
Among active NBA players, Billups said two-way wings such as Kawhi Leonard of the Clippers and Jimmy Butler of the Heat are two of his favorite players to watch. Billups said he values defense and offense equally, and takes pride in giving a maximum effort on each side of the court.
“That’s how I like to play,” said the 192-pound Billups, who said he “always” guards the other team’s best player.
Billups joins 6-foot-4 Stephen Coleman in head coach Carmen Maciariello’s 2021 recruiting class. The pair of 17-year-old wing players provides Siena’s next class with two recruits that combine the mixture of athleticism and versatility that Maciariello covets in perimeter players.
Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Billups was unable to visit the Siena campus. A pair of relationships played a significant role in Billups’ comfort in choosing Siena; his high school coach TJ Jordan previously coached with Siena assistant coach Antoni Wyche at Lehigh, while former Siena big man Evan Fisher is a graduate of McDonogh School.
Billups said he knew Fisher — a 2019 Siena graduate — a little bit from the alumnus’ past support of the McDonogh School basketball program, but that he’d spoken with him multiple times in the last month about Siena. Among other qualities, Billups said Fisher described Siena as a “basketball-oriented place” and that appealed to the rising high school senior.
“After that conversation,” Billups said, “I thought it was a no-brainer.”
Billups held offers from a number of schools, including ones from Bucknell, Holy Cross, Loyola, Navy and Niagara. At Siena, Billups said he plans to study economics.