efore his sophomore year, Jameel Pugh stopped by Grant High School to see what the basketball was like. He walked into the gym and found a gym rat working himself into a sweaty lather.
UMass recruit Jameel Pugh (left) with Grant High teammate Ronald Dosty.
"He did it, like, 50 straight times: Drop step, dunk, repeat," said Pugh, who transferred from Johnson to Grant shortly after the initial meeting. "I tried it once and nearly fell down. I thought then that if we work together, we could be something pretty special here."
Special is how the Grant duo calls it. Frightening is how opponents describe it, having grown tired of ducking every time Dosty and Pugh roar down the lane.
Now seniors, Dosty and Pugh represent the area's most ferocious 1-2 punch. Everything about their game is predicated on physicality, point-blank execution and emotion, and that rare combination has the Pacers, No. 2 in The Bee's rankings, clipping right along at 15-1.
Dosty patterns his game after NBA great Charles Barkley, battering his 6-foot-5 frame inside -- "and my Dosty butt" -- for rebounds as a power forward. Few players in the last 10 years have crashed the boards with quite the determination as Dosty, the area leader again in that department with 12 per game.
Pugh has burst into the national scene with his incomparable athletic ability. Prep scouting services have the 6-4 flyer rated as the second best shooting guard in the country, and his outlandish potential was enough to have dozens of colleges begging for his services during a whirlwind summer of hoops. USC, for example, sent him 150 pieces of mail over two days.
Pugh signed a national letter of intent to play for the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.
What makes Pugh special is his leaping ability -- teenagers call it "hops" -- and one would be hard pressed to find a more spectacular dunker from these parts. Darnell Hillman thrilled many with his dunks while playing at Johnson in the 1960s before breakaway rims. Hillman went on to win pro basketball's first dunk contest, for the old ABA in the mid-1970s.
In terms of high school feats, no one touches Pugh. Off missed free throws, off an alley-oop, from just inside the free-throw line, you name it and he has it in his arsenal without trying to make every game a dunk contest.
Next week's edition of Slam magazine declares Pugh as the "World Dunk Champion," listing him above Michael Jordan and Julius Erving. Ridiculous? Perhaps, but the basis comes from Pugh winning an age-group dunk contest in France over the summer, sealing the deal with a between-the-legs finish.
That's between the legs while in mid flight.
"People had never seen that before, but I wanted to win the thing because I was going against a 7-footer from Nigeria who could really jump," Pugh said. "All these French kids came running up asking for an autograph and asking me in French to do it again. I couldn't understand them, but I got the idea."
Dosty and Pugh: two Pacers, two different styles of play and one unbeatable combination.
Double team Dosty and pay by bracing for a Pugh finish, or for a three-pointer, an element he has added this season. Double team Pugh and that leaves Dosty alone and eager down low.
"You can't stop them both," said Burbank coach Frank Maestas, whose team has lost twice this season to Grant. "Ronald is an incredible rebounder who earns everything with work ethic. And Jameel is incredible, an amazing dunker."
Said Dosty, "We both have our own style. I love to do the dirty work. Every team has to have a guy willing to bang inside and that's me. I'll bruise you, and I'll carry a few guys with me when I dunk. Whatever it takes."
In an effort to toughen up his son, Erick Dosty would take his son along for pickup games in Del Paso Heights, where he would get knocked around by Pacers legends such as Rovan Turner.
"My dad taught me a long time ago not to be soft," Dosty said. "He still gives me bumps and bruises, and he and my mom (Toney) are the only ones who can push me around."
Growing up in the Bay Area, Pugh would see a slam dunk on TV and promptly race to the nearest park. He would strengthen his legs by standing in one spot directly underneath the backboard and jumping repeatedly to touch the rim to create a spring effect.
The first time he dunked, he raced home and told his mother, Louise, who smiled and said, "Oh, that's nice, son. Now clean your room."
"She didn't understand the significance of the dunk," Pugh said. "I mean, I'm in eighth grade and I dunked and I'm the happiest guy alive. Now she understands."
Last summer, Pugh was the Hoop-it-Up dunk champion, beating college athletes with a stirring 180-degree-turn effort that nearly tore the backboard down. That was just part of a wild summer for Dosty and Pugh, whose talents have allowed them to travel.
Dosty dominated in a team tournament in Italy, and Pugh embraces his dunk hardware from France.
And Dosty, 17, is still growing. He weighed 10 pounds at birth and is projected to reach 6-9 or more. He wears size 19 shoes (Corliss Williamson donated some shoes to Dosty last year), which are hard to find.
Colleges haven't beaten down Dosty's door as they have Pugh's. There's no high demand for 6-5 rebounders in the Pac-10.
For now, he's thinking of the next rebound. Or dozen.
"I'm not worried about college," Dosty said, "because my work ethic will get me somewhere ... that's always the key."
ne of the best seniors on the west coast, Jameel Pugh, the shooting guard from Sacramento (Calif.) Grant who has committed to Massachusetts, has been fighting off sickness and injury to try to mount a senior campaign to remember...
6-4 Jameel Pugh, Sacramento (Calif.) Grant, said he's improved his game considerably and that his team is doing very well, despite the fact that he's gone through a series of illnesses and injuries.
"I started out the season with strep throat," Pugh said. "Then I was hit above the eye in one game and my eyelid was cut open. Recently I severely sprained my ankle. I've only missed two games total, but it's been hard. But I don't want to make excuses."
Pugh is still averaging 16 points, 9 boards, 5 assists and 3 blocks a game, playing primarily the post for his team that only has one other player over 6-2. Grant is currently 17-1 and one of the most highly regarded teams in the Sacramento region.
Notice, also, that Pugh is now listed at 6-4. Pugh said he's grown an inch. He also said that he's shooting well from the 3-pt. line and his stroke has improved.
"Even though I'm playing center, I still get the chance to shoot from the outside," Pugh said. "And my shot feels better. It's definitely improved."
Pugh was recently featured in Slam Magazine. The article touted him as one of the best dunkers ever, comparing him to the likes of Michael Jordan and Julius Erving, which is, of course, a bit of hyperbole. But Pugh is certainly one of the best athletes in the nation this year, and certainly one of its most spectacular dunkers.