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Bal­ti­more-born Pitt star Ar­tis play­ing with jailed brother in mind

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Don Markus

When Bal­ti­more-born Pitt bas­ket­ball star Jamel Ar­tis faces the Terps tonight, he’ll be met by dozens of friends and fam­ily from his home­town. Miss­ing: his twin brother, Ja­maal, who is serv­ing a sen­tence for armed rob­bery.

COL­LEGE PARK — Jamel Ar­tis thinks back to his well-trav­eled high school ca­reer and knows he could have eas­ily ended up play­ing for Mary­land. Af­ter leav­ing Dun­bar be­fore his ju­nior year, Ar­tis was one of the first re­cruits a newly hired Mark Tur­geon brought into his of­fice at Xfin­ity Cen­ter to sell the Terps.

Tur­geon and his staff hes­i­tated mak­ing an of­fer to Ar­tis, partly be­cause of an un­even aca­demic record — he even­tu­ally re­clas­si­fied and spent an ex­tra year at Notre Dame Prep in Mas­sachusetts. Ar­tis landed at Pitts­burgh, and played in two vic­to­ries over the Terps as a fresh­man.

Then Mary­land left the At­lantic Coast Con­fer­ence for the Big Ten.

When Ar­tis saw that the Pan­thers would be com­ing to Col­lege Park for their ACC-Big Ten Chal­lenge game against Mary­land tonight, the 6-foot-7, 215-pound se­nior couldn’t have been hap­pier. It will mean that nearly two dozen rel­a­tives and friends from Bal­ti­more — in­clud­ing for­mer Pitt team­mate Du­rand John­son — will be at the game.

“It’s al­ways good to play in front of a crowd, es­pe­cially where you’re from,” Ar­tis said in a tele­phone in­ter­view Mon­day. “I couldn’t ask for any­thing else for my se­nior year — play­ing at Mary­land.”One per­son Ar­tis would love to see there is his fra­ter­nal twin brother, Ja­maal Ar­tis, who has spent much of the past seven years in jail af­ter be­ing ar­rested in Bal­ti­more in Oc­to­ber 2009 for at­tempted car­jack­ing. He served five years and then, shortly af­ter his re­lease, was ar­rested on a new armed-rob­bery charge as well as for vi­o­lat­ing terms of his pro­ba­tion.

Ja­maal Ar­tis is serv­ing a 12-year sen­tence at the Mary­land Cor­rec­tional In­sti­tu­tion in Hager­stown.

“All through my high school ca­reer, he was in and out of jail,” Jamel Ar­tis said.

“I’m do­ing this for him and for me.”

Ac­cord­ing to their fa­ther, Kevin Ar­tis Sr., Ja­maal could have been in a sim­i­lar po­si­tion to his twin’s.

Though sev­eral inches shorter, Ja­maal was a promis­ing foot­ball player who his fa­ther said had of­fers to play at Calvert Hall and Mount Saint Joseph.

In­stead, he went to Lake Clifton, like his fa­ther, who ran track there in the mid-1970s.

“I kept him in­volved in sports, but I couldn’t fol­low him around 24 hours” a day, said the el­der Ar­tis, a postal car­rier in Bal­ti­more.

Jamel says that he hung around with some of the same friends as his brother when they were in mid­dle school and high school.

“I also hung around peo­ple I shouldn’t have hung around with, but I knew right from wrong,” he said Mon­day. “He hung around them much more than me, and of course that will catch up with you in the long run.”

The two are still close, and Jamel sends his brother money when­ever he can. Ja­maal has tried to fol­low the Pan­thers on tele­vi­sion.

“He’s watched a cou­ple of games, and he’s told me, ‘Shoot the ball more,’ ” Jamel said with a laugh. “We just have our con­ver­sa­tions about bas­ket­ball, life, pe­riod.”

Jamel has a tat­too hon­or­ing his late mother, Pamela Ar­tis, who had been es­tranged from the fam­ily since he and his brother were tod­dlers.

Kevin Ar­tis helped coach Jamel’s Am­a­teur Ath­letic Union team, the Bal­ti­more Stars, and, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a proud fa­ther, he is one of his son’s harsh­est crit­ics.

“I don’t think he’s even touched his full po­ten­tial be­cause of his work ethic,” Kevin Ar­tis said.

“He hasn’t tapped into his po­ten­tial be­cause nat­u­ral abil­ity has taken him where he wants to go. If he went to the NBA, he’d com­pete, be­cause he’d do the work that other peo­ple around him are do­ing, but he doesn’t have the for­ti­tude to do the work him­self.”

Jamel Ar­tis is try­ing to trans­form him­self into a col­lege — and po­ten­tially a pro — point guard. Af­ter the grad­u­a­tion of four-year starter James Robin­son, new coach Kevin Stallings wasn’t sure who was go­ing to play point when he took over af­ter long­time coach Jamie Dixon left for South­ern Methodist.

At the team’s me­dia day in late Septem­ber, Ar­tis pro­nounced him­self the new start­ing point guard. He was only half-kid­ding. “To put me at point guard was the best idea for this team be­cause of size, lead­er­ship and hav­ing the five best guys on the floor at the same time,” he said Mon­day. “Point guard is not a hard thing for me. I could al­ways drib­ble, make shots and cre­ate for oth­ers. I would say it’s nat­u­ral for me to play the point guard po­si­tion.”

Said Stallings: “I think as I looked at it, we didn’t have a clear-cut guy for the po­si­tion. We ei­ther had fresh­men or guys that didn’t have a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence. I think the de­ci­sion for me just came down — here’s the guy that’s the best passer on our team and he can han­dle the ball well.

“He’s very ver­sa­tile in terms of his abil­ity.”

Six games into the sea­son, Ar­tis seems to be ac­cu­rate in his as­sess­ment. He is av­er­ag­ing a ca­reer-high 19.3 points, to go along with 5.3 re­bounds and 3.8 as­sists.

Af­ter av­er­ag­ing 2.4 turnovers per game a year ago at small for­ward, Ar­tis is down to 1.7 this year. In back-to-back vic­to­ries over Mar­quette and Yale, he didn’t com­mit a turnover in a com­bined 64 min­utes.

“The big­gest chal­lenge for me is tak­ing care of the ball and mak­ing the right de­ci­sions in­stead of the home run pass and things like that,” he said. “You def­i­nitely need to a bal­ance, you just have to find the time to be ag­gres­sive.

“On my team, Coach wants me to shoot the ball. Prob­a­bly sec­ond half [of games] I’m ag­gres­sive. I need to do that from the tip. I think he wants metodothat from the tip, more than just a pass [first].”

Along with se­nior for­ward Michael Young, who is av­er­ag­ing team highs of 23.3 points and 8.2 re­bounds while shoot­ing 58 per­cent from field, Ar­tis is the big­gest rea­son the Pan­thers are play­ing bet­ter than many ex­pected from a team picked to fin­ish near the bot­tom of the ACC.

“He’s done a re­ally nice job de­fen­sively and of­fen­sively; he’s just a very gifted player,” Stallings said. “He scores it pretty eas­ily. He can score on the block, he can score pulling up, he can shoot it from 3. He’s taken real good care of the ball.

“We’re just try­ing to put him in as many po­si­tions as we can to take ad­van­tage of all that he brings to his team.”

FRED VUICH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Pitts­burgh se­nior Jamel Ar­tis (Dun­bar) keeps in touch with his twin brother, Ja­maal Ar­tis, who has spent much of the past seven years in jail.

FRED VUICH/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Jamel Ar­tis, start­ing for the first time at point guard, is av­er­ag­ing a ca­reer-high 19.3 points a game, to go along with 5.3 re­bounds and 3.8 as­sists, and has cut his turnovers from 2.4 a game to 1.7.

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