NORCROSS By pretty much any standard, Jeremy Lamb can be considered a bit of a late bloomer as far as his basketball career is concerned.
As a junior last season, he was a support player waiting for his opportunities to play in a senior-laden backcourt that included his brother, Zach Lamb, plus longtime starters Taariq Muhammad and Denzail Jones.
Still, the Norcross guard was a valuable asset off the bench during the latter stages of the Blue Devils' run to the Class AAAAA state quarterfinals.
But as the home stretch of his senior season begins, Lamb has blossomed into one of Gwinnett County's premier players a leader capable of taking his Norcross flock back to the state championship game after having its run of three straight titles broken last year.
"I was playing behind my brother and the rest of the seniors last year," the 6-foot-3 senior said. "I was just more aggressive and did what I had to do. After last year, Coach (Jesse McMillan) told me, Next year's going to be your year.' So, I started working hard this summer."
So far, McMillan's prediction about Lamb has been on the money. He has built on a junior season in which he averaged 9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.
He leads the No. 3 Blue Devils (15-2, 10-1 heading into tonight's Region 7-AAAAA showdown with second-place Mill Creek), and is fifth in Gwinnett County in scoring, nearly than doubling last year's output at 18.3 points per game.
Perhaps even more valuable are the team-best 6.8 rebounds he's provided each game for a team that is a bit undersized compared to past Norcross teams.
"I've been around Jeremy for three years now. ... He's always been a gifted scorer, but I don't think he ever truly believed he could be the type of go-to player he is now," McMillan said. "His rebounding is one thing that I think has surprised all of us. That was something he didn't do in the past. And again, I think it all comes back to confidence."
The seeds of that increased confidence is something McMillan began to see in Lamb as early as last season.
"At the beginning of the year last year, he was a partial starter for us," McMillan said. "But as we got into tougher ball games, there were some things that he needed to improve on.
"At Christmas was really when we gave him the opportunity to do some things, and he responded by scoring at a really high rate. ... He averaged 13 minutes a game last year and the second half of the season, he averaged about 11 points a ball game. You're talking almost a point a minute. So we knew we had a really nice weapon on the bench."
But Lamb's confidence really grew during the spring AAU season for the Georgia Stars, and his production skyrocketed.
"I was having an OK (AAU) season," Lamb said. "But I wasn't being as aggressive as I could. I ended up having a couple of breakout games and things kind of came together."
Lamb averaged 22 points per game during the prestigious Peach Jam tournament in Augusta, wowing dozens of college coaches and scouts in attendance in the process, and had similar success at other AAU tournaments, as well as those with Norcross' summer team.
"He had a good spring on the AAU circuit ... where, I think for the first time, he was kind of like the go-to player with his team," McMillan said. "And then with us in the summer, we put him in that position, and I think that was the final piece to his confidence."
After receiving and signing a scholarship from the University of Connecticut, Lamb's production and confidence have carried over this season, during which his transformation from a follower into a leader has become complete.
Lamb also credits much of his increased confidence to the influence of his father, Rolando Lamb, a former college star at Virginia Commonwealth who was a third-round draft pick in the NBA in 1985 with the Seattle Supersonics.
"He's been working with me all my life," Lamb said. "He knows a lot about the game."