Bulls guard Lamonte Bearden’s focused path led him to Buffalo

Bearden didn’t want to be part of a bad crowd, so he turned to basketball


You might be able to tell Lamonte Bearden is a freshman by his baby face, wide smile and small 160-pound frame, but you wouldn’t be able to tell the Buffalo men’s basketball guard is one based on how he plays on the hardwood.

“Lamonte plays with the maturity beyond his years on the court,” said head coach Bobby Hurley. “Nothing fazes him out there. He doesn’t get rattled. He plays at his own speed.”

Bearden, who averages 7.8 points and 4.3 assists per game, has started 26 games for the Bulls this season as a true freshman point guard. In just his first season, he’s been asked to help run the floor for a team that controls its own destiny for a Mid-American East title with three games remaining.

Bearden’s maturity comes from his parents. They wouldn’t let him act any other way – and there was no other way for Bearden to act growing up in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Bearden and his family couldn’t let him become a statistic.

Milwaukee’s violent crime rate was three times the national average in 2012 and the city reported 91 murders in 2012, according to City-Data.com.

Bearden said he could have fallen in with the wrong crowd while growing up. But he was too smart and too focused on basketball. When he wasn’t on the court, he chose to hang out with teammates or his brother. He said he never hung with troublemakers and tried to stay on the right path.

“We were so quick to get him into basketball because he was interested in it so early,” said Brian, Bearden’s father. “He would see it on TV and just stand in front of it for the whole game, just standing up.”

But even if Bearden didn’t have basketball, he said that he wouldn’t have ventured down a bad path. His parents didn’t raise him that way. But basketball was what he and his family used to keep him out of trouble in the streets of Milwaukee.

Bearden said because Milwaukee “was turning so bad,” as he was preparing to enter high school that his family moved to the nearby suburb Homestead for him to continue his basketball career.

“They were more suburban towns, so I could stay out of trouble,” Bearden said.

The transition took a while for Bearden to get used to. He said he was going from a black community to a predominantly white one, but it ultimately didn’t matter to him. Eventually, he loved playing basketball in the suburbs. Bearden said it was “different” but ultimately liked playing out there.

It was in high school that Bearden really began to stand out. Bearden played his freshman and sophomore years on the varsity team for Homestead High School. He then transferred to Germantown High School, where he and his team would go on to win back-to-back state championships. In the two seasons he played for Germantown, Bearden accumulated a 54-2 record while averaging 15.3 points, four assists and three rebounds.

Bearden’s achievements in high school caught the attention of many college basketball programs. He was ranked as the fourth best player in Wisconsin and the 28th best point guard in the entire country, according to a definitive ranking by ESPN.

Nonetheless, the choice to come to Buffalo was obvious.

“The decision of coming to Buffalo was pretty easy, considering the fact that [head coach Bobby] Hurley is the head coach and [the school] showed so much interest,” Brian said. “They were very interested in trying to have Lamonte come to Buffalo. Their interest in turn sparked ours, and here we are.”

After the Bulls lost in the MAC Tournament semi-finals last season, Hurley traveled to watch Bearden play a game. It wouldn’t be long after until Bearden and Hurley would be working together.

Hurley said he was eager to get Bearden on the court as a Bull after recruiting him from Germantown.

“When I recruited him he was the type of recruit that was so highly regarded, and I thought so much of him,” Hurley said. “I thought there was a chance of him getting a starting position and he earned it. We’re a better team when he’s on the floor.”

Bearden said he was ecstatic to join the Bulls and play under a coach like Hurley. Getting a starting spot was his driving point.

Bearden said that it was “an honor” to get a starting spot as a true freshman. While Bearden is only a freshman, Hurley had nothing but praise for Bearden and his mature style of basketball.

Despite Bearden’s inexperience, Hurley said he is confident that Bearden will perform well in the upcoming MAC tournament, which is set to begin on March 11 in Cleveland, Ohio.

“He’s been [to championship games] before with his team, and he’s had success in high school,” Hurley said. “I think he knows what it’s about playing in big games and in every game here on in. Having a guy who has that type of poise is great.”

The success or failure of the Bulls in the tournament will probably come down to more than just Bearden’s play, but also how he plays alongside his teammates, particularly sophomore guard Shannon Evans.

“I think in particular him and Shannon are good because they both play great defense on the ball,” Hurley said. “They’re very aggressive no matter who we play. They play off of each other and they all bring a different skill set to the game.”

Bearden had nothing but praise for his fellow guards. He said he finds Evans to be a “real good guard,” and complimented junior guard Jarryn Skeete’s [whom he refers to as “Skeeter”] three-point shooting ability.

With the regular season drawing to a close, Hurley and Bearden said they are focused on the tournament ahead, but the future is also looming. Bearden has three more seasons of eligibility after this one, and Hurley said he will only get better.

“He’s got physical tools that I can’t teach him. His quickness, his athleticism, his instincts; those are some great things going for him,” Hurley said. “He’s got to continue to get stronger and maturity and weight training will help that process along. He’ll continue to reap those benefits from that.

For now, Bearden’s concerned with the last three games of the regular season and the tournament ahead. The Bulls play Kent State (19-9, 10-5 MAC) on Saturday and could surpass the Golden Flashes for the No. 2 seed in the MAC East with a victory.

“I’m honestly not sure [what the future holds],” Bearden said. “I’m just out here playing right now.”

James Battle is a sports editor and can be reached at sports@ubspectrum.com