Ever since Jamel Artis was 10 years old, he was familiar with the Carrington family.
“He was always taller than everybody else,” Carlton ‘Bub’ Carrington, Artis’ coach, told Pittsburgh Sports Now. “He was always taller. When everybody was ten, it always looked like he was 12. We used to call him ‘The Big Skill,’ because he was very skilled at that age. ‘Mel could use his right hand, his left hand, so we used to call him ‘The Big Skill.’ He was never a confrontational kid, he was always a happy-go-lucky, real casual demeanor-type kid. He was always even keeled.”
Artis, a Baltimore, Md. native, grew up playing under Carrington for Baltimore Elite, a Nike program which played a national schedule every summer. Artis joined the team around the age of 10, and played for Carrington all the way through his high-school career. As he grew into a high-major caliber player, more and more college coaches jumped into his recruitment, acknowledging The Big Skill’s talent at such a young age.
“His recruitment process was almost like the stock market,” Carrington said. “I had ‘Mel playing 17-under Peach Jam in the ninth grade. I had him on the team with guys like Will Barton, CJ Fair, you know. He was on the team with some pros in the ninth grade. I had ‘Mel starting. When everybody saw him starting, they were like, ‘Damn, he’s in the ninth grade?’ They couldn’t believe it. Mel was a pass-first type kid. His recruitment was high, then it leveled out, then it was high, then it leveled out.”
Carrington had personal relationships with each member of Jamie Dixon’s Pitt staff, specifically Brandin Knight, Bill Barton, and Marlon Williamson.
“When they zeroed in on ‘Mel, they just all zeroed in on him together,” he said about Pitt’s strategy in recruiting Artis. “They wanted him. They made him and Mike Young a priority because they played prep-school ball together. They stayed with it the whole time.”
The three-star prospect eventually committed to the Panthers along with Young. Now standing tall at 6-foot-7, Artis went on to have a stellar career for the Panthers, scoring 13+ points per game in each of his final three seasons in Pittsburgh, including an 18-point-per-game senior campaign. As he advanced to the professional ranks, Artis went un-drafted, but was quickly scooped up by the New York Knicks.
Just before he began competing in an NBA training camp for the first time, the Knicks hosted family and friends of their players for “Family Day” at Madison Square Garden. The team gave tours of the facilities, took part in activities with family and friends, and played an exhibition game in front of the fans.
Carrington decided to make the trip up from Baltimore to bring his son, Carlton III and a friend Bryce Lindsay (former Pitt recruit, now at Texas A&M) up to the Garden for the day.
Years later, while Artis continued to produce at all levels of pro basketball in Europe, Carrington III became a monster on the court himself.
— DMV Live (@DMVHoopsLive) June 24, 2022
Coaches started calling from schools all over the region when Carrington was heading into his junior year of high-school at Saint Frances Academy in Baltimore. That list included Pitt, who his father remembers as the first program to ever reach out to Carlton directly.
“Milan [Brown] was the first coach to call,” Carrington Jr. said. “He called at 12:01. It was late, we had just gotten back to the hotel from a restaurant. The phone rings, we were like, ‘Who the hell is that calling at 12:01?’ It was Milan Brown. And then, my man from Rutgers Brandin Knight called at 12:03. Brandin called right after Milan. He was like, ‘Am I the first one?’ I said, ‘Ah, Milan got you by two minutes. So that was funny.”
On June 15, 2022, exactly one year after Brown reached out for the first time, Carrington made his commitment to Pitt official. The 6-foot-4 guard was locked in, and would eventually sign with the Panthers months later along with fellow highly-touted high schoolers Jaland Lowe and Marlon Barnes.
Prior to his first collegiate game as a freshman which will come months from now, Carrington has been working on his craft with his fellow Panthers — past and present. Some of Pitt basketball’s top talent gathered in Oakland last week to begin preparation for The Basketball Tournament, which kicked off on Tuesday. Gilbert Brown assembled the Zoo Crew team, inviting Sam Young, LeVance Fields, and many more former Pitt studs to come out to practice and then compete for $1 million.
While Artis received the invite, he could not quite make it out for the entire week of practice. However, he made sure to be there on Saturday for the Pitt alumni game — a matchup between Zoo Crew and the current Pitt team in the Petersen Events Center. Also, the chance to play against “Little Bub,” who he remembers as a little kid looking up to him.
“Mel was like, ‘Look at this little joker right here, This the dude I used to mess with?’ I said, yeah, that’s him,” Carrington Jr. said. “Everything came full circle at that time. A while ago, Bub was sitting on the bench in a timeout as I’m coaching Jamel. Now, it all just came full circle. When Bub was playing with ‘Mel on the court with the Knicks, Bub could barely get the ball up and ‘Mel was blocking it. Now, it’s like, you’ve really got to play him. It was just all kinds of emotions, but it was good to see, it was real good to see.”
“My wife, she had tears in her eyes,” Carrington added. “She said, ‘I know one thing, Jamel better not beat up on my kid or I’ll go out there and kick him right in the stomach.'”
Artis went on to drop a team-best 21 points in Zoo Crew’s loss to Herd That on Tuesday night. His three pointer late in the second half brought the former Panthers as close as they could get all game, cutting the lead down to four and earning cheers from Carrington and the current Panthers on the baseline.
Jamel Artis (21 points) Highlights vs. Herd That, 07/25/2023 pic.twitter.com/DmYwJtBXrH
— TBT (@thetournament) July 26, 2023
The Baltimore connection will continue in Oakland as Carrington opens up his freshman season with the Panthers in November. As for Artis, he will look to continue his professional hooping career which has seen him play in leagues all over the world.