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From Philly to Louisville, Kimble enjoying his 'Fresh' start

02/03/2020, 12:15pm EST
By Andy Jasner

Lamarr 'Fresh' Kimble is filling a key role for Louisville during his final season of college hoops. (Photo courtesy Louisville Athletics)

Andy Jasner (@AndyJasner)

Lamarr Kimble needed a fresh start.

With one season of eligibility remaining and professional basketball aspirations swirling in his mind, the guard nicknamed “Fresh” ultimately realized he had one last chapter to complete.

And sadly for Saint Joseph’s, it would require transferring to Louisville. After three seasons on Hawk Hill, Kimble decided to take a familiar path by transferring to Louisville from Philadelphia, following Damion Lee from Drexel and Tony Hicks from Penn.

It was far from easy. The decision came after consulting with a plethora of people close to him. But the decision was right for Kimble. He’s thriving with the Cardinals. He’s happy. He’s at peace.

“It’s great. Great experience. Great fans. Great city. Everything is going real well,” Kimble told CoBL. “I’m liking the position I’m in. We’re winning games. Have a different perspective from the last few years being home at St. Joe’s. My time down here, I’m improving in so many different areas. I’m learning so much in the game than I did. It’s been great.”

Kimble endured some frustrating injuries with the Hawks, but that was no one’s fault. He had surgery in 2017 to repair a fractured left foot and also dealt with a hand injury the next season. There were so many days and nights when Kimble was forced to watch his teammates compete while he healed.

Then came the biggest change which helped to trigger his transfer – longtime head coach Phil Martelli was dismissed and replaced with Billy Lange. Kimble had no ill will toward Lange. Plain and simple, Martelli recruited Kimble and treated him like a member of his own family.

Upon entering the transfer portal, Kimble drew an immediate myriad of programs from around the country.

“I got like 15 text messages the same day from different universities,” said Kimble, a former standout at Neumann-Goretti. “The process was kind of wild. It was mostly high major, Pac-12, some Big Ten, ACC. It was a lot of high major schools, the AAC also, a lot of schools from different conferences contacted me.”

Martelli wound up being hired as an assistant coach on Juwan Howard’s staff at Michigan. Kimble went another route, a familiar one, by heading to Louisville, which has a legitimate chance of making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.

Louisville soundly defeated Michigan, 58-43, in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge earlier this season. Martelli was on bench and Kimble was the other.

Bizarre, indeed.

“But when we were watching, it was not my scout, but I watched three games to get familiar with everything, and I noticed every play that he was in,” Martelli said. “I made different notes, and thought, well, he looks bouncier, oh he’s making that same play, he’s making that pivot move in the lane, he’s really committed defensively, so all of those things I did look at. And during the day, he had a couple of steals in that game and it was just vintage Fresh, it was be where you’re supposed to be, and compete to the highest level.

“So, it was just great to see him, it was great to exchange affection, and when the competition was on, the only way I would compare it would be when people might say, how about the competition between you and Temple when Fran Dunphy was down there? It was a great experience, I wish we had played better, but I was proud of him for the man that he is and the challenge he’s taking. He’s out of Philadelphia for the first time in his life.”

Kimble (above) played in 84 games with 43 starts in a St. Joe's uniform. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Anyone who has ever been in contact with Martelli knows how much he cares about every single current and former player.

That will never change.

When Martelli and Kimble had a chance to talk, it was just like old times.

“What we talked about was making sure that we maintained contact, that at any moment in time, pick up the phone and connect,” Martelli said. “Because since March, what I’ve really kind of zeroed in on is, there’s no such thing as a former player, all of those that played were players, to varying degrees, some their decision, some circumstance, they really are an extension of my family. So he and I have talked about, in the very beginning we talked about how different it would be to be away, but to make sure that my word to him was that he was surrounded by good people, and (Louisville head coach) Chris Mack and that staff are good people he said the teammates are terrific to him, the coaching staff told me how much he’s beloved and respected by his teammates.”

Kimble echoed similar thoughts, saying how different it was. But he sure was glad to see his former coach, someone that he has so much respect for.

“Being able to see him that day was bittersweet. He was on the opposite team from me for the first time ever,” Kimble said. “It was good seeing him. The love we have is bigger than basketball. He’s been a good mentor to me and his family took me in and that love will be there forever. … he’s on the other sideline than myself. That was pretty funny for a moment. I had to dial back into the game after that. That was the strangest part of the game. … when the ball got thrown up in the air, we were enemies.”

Kimble, a former Catholic League First Team selection, went on to become a three-year captain at St. Joe’s despite the injuries, In 2018-19 on Hawk Hill, Kimble averaged 15.6 points and 2.8 assists on 40 percent shooting in a total of 23 games.

This season, the Cardinals are off to an 19-3 (10-1 Louisville) start while Kimble is continuing to develop his role. Through 22 games, (nine) starts, Kimble is averaging 4.7 points and 3.0 assists per game.

There is so much more to Kimble’s development, however. His balhandling and defensive skills are getting better every day.

“It’s definitely different, but at the same time, I expected to come down here and get wins regardless and expected to be in the position we’re in now,” Kimble said. “Other aspects are slightly different. Day in and day out things going through the new terminology. … Each day was a learning process, I can’t stress how much I’ve learned. I’m learning something new every day. Every day is a new learning experience for me.”

Kimble (above, right) during his sophomore season at Neumann-Goretti in 2012-13. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)


Such as?

“It was an adjustment not depending on me to take like 15 shots in a game to have us have a chance at winning,” Kimble said. “Of course, I’m coming off the bench. I understood my role was going to change and take whatever role they give me and I would do it to the best of my ability. I take defense seriously and I pride myself on being a lockdown defender, not just a scorer.”

The complete package has been all positive for Louisville and Mack has been thrilled with everything Kimble has to offer.

“Fresh worked hard this summer with our strength and conditioning staff to get his body in shape,” Mack said. “He cares about winning and I think that’s one of the things that brought him to Louisville. He wants to do what it takes to win. He has a stabilizing effect on our team and he has played well defensively for us. He gives us experience and different things from our other guards, like he brings an off-speed pitch for us where Darius (Perry) brings a fastball. He’s a guy that I think his teammates know will be steady with the ball.

“He’s not our primary scorer by any means like he was at St. Joe’s, but I think he really wants to be at a place that has a chance to do something special. He’s playing his role and he’s contributing to get his feet under him and becoming more comfortable.”

Kimble’s journey began at Neumann-Goretti where he won a pair of PIAA state titles. It continued with Saint Joseph’s where he became the only three-year captain in the history of the program. The college portion of the journey will conclude following an expected trip to the NCAAs.

Beyond that, Kimble’s dream of playing professional basketball remains.

“I’ve learned that I wasn’t ready to be a pro basketball player until now,” Kimble said. “I have to keep getting better every day in some aspect. I feel like I didn’t take that approach when I was at home. I feel like I’ve learned so much and I wasn’t ready to take that next step and I’ve learned so much and have to learned to battle my way there. … It does enter my mind because it’s my last year. I’m not taking anything for granted, not that I was before when I was younger. This is it. There can be no tomorrow. You have to take everything with a grain of salt and keep pushing and that’s what I’m about to get going. I’m confident in my game and understand what I bring to the table.”

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