"I'm not Jerry Lucas, I'm J.J. Lucas. They shouldn't expect of me what someone did 30 years ago." Photo by Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
The initials are important to him.
"I'm very proud of my father, and we're like best friends," said Lucas, who'll play basketball for Hawaii Pacific University next season as a junior. "He was a great basketball player, but people have to remember that I'm not Jerry Lucas. I'm J.J. Lucas. They shouldn't expect of me what someone did 30 years ago."
The 6-foot-11, 265-pounder said he wants to establish his own identity here.
"For a lot of years, I've been doing things other people wanted me to do. That was partly because of my dad. I wanted to make him happy, and my town (Middletown, Ohio) happy," he said. "But now I'm doing what I want to do and the game is fun again."
His father was a three-time basketball All-American at Ohio State, a team he led to the NCAA championship in his sophomore season. He was a member of the 1960 USA gold-medal Olympic team. Lucas was selected seven times to the NBA all-star team and played a key role in the New York Knicks' drive to the NBA championship in 1973.
His 21-year-old son played a little more than one season for Vanderbilt in the tough Southeastern Conference, starting a number of games for the Commodores (18-14 overall). He left the team five games into his sophomore season.
In 27 games as a true freshman, he averaged 5.2 points and 3.3 rebounds.
Seeing little playing time and feeling increasingly uncomfortable, Lucas quit the program after the Maui Classic last winter. He returned to his mother's home in Carmel, Calif.
"I just wasn't getting along with my coaches and it wasn't a good situation for me," he said. "I loved the school and I loved the city. And I loved my teammates, but it just wasn't a good situation."
"The kid has some great offensive moves in the low box, and he can get faster," said Hawaii Pacific University coach Tony Sellitto. "If he reduces his body weight, he 'll get faster."
Sellitto is familiar with this kind of project. John Strickland arrived at HPU several years ago as a 270-pounder. But it was after he reached 240 that he earned NAIA All-American honors.
HPU was 27-6 last season and has three returning starters - NAIA All-American Juergen Malbeck and guards Llewellyn Smalley and Steve Richey. Sellitto sees Lucas fitting in well with this group, probably playing as a power forward, although he will have to sit out the first five games of the season because he played five games last season.
Lucas learned of the Sea Warriors program through former HPU baseball player Nathan Trotsky, whose father was a friend of his mother.
"I told him my situation and how I was looking for a smaller school," said Lucas.
"He told me about Coach (Tony) Sellitto. He called him for me. Then I talked to Coach Sellitto a few times. He offered me a scholarship and I decided to come last February."
Lucas, who was a two-time all-state player for Middletown High School, his father's alma mater, said his Hall of Fame father never put any pressure on him.
"For that I'm grateful to him," said Lucas.
But he said the Jerry Lucas aura always surrounded him on the mainland.
"My dad also played at Middletown High," he said. "He was an All-American, the No. 1 player in the nation, and being recruited by everyone. So you see his jersey hanging up and his shoes bronzed, and the Jerry Lucas Tournament. You think about that. In the Midwest, high school basketball is a very big thing. You hear things in the stands and when you're a 16-17-year-old kid, you take things to heart and sometimes you put too much pressure on yourself."
He said his father prepared him for the pressure.
"He said, 'If you're gonna play, this is what's gonna happen because of who I am and because of who you are.' "
Asked if he thinks he's inherited anything from his father, Lucas laughed and said, "Size."
Thinking for a moment, he added, "And my shooting ability. He taught me how to shoot. I shoot an old sweeping hook like he did. When I get in shape, that's really hard to stop. People don't use that shot anymore, so they don't expect it."