Discipline is something that Doron Lamb had little choice but to accept and embrace discipline during his time at Oak Hill (Va.) Academy.
“At Oak Hill, it is basketball, school work and bed. There’s nothing else to do there. You don’t get distracted. I was there two years, so I am used to discipline,” the Kentucky freshman said. “We went on the road a lot, so it was good preparation for college. It made me a better player and better person off the court. Coach (Steven Smith) teaches you a lot of things other than just basketball.”
Of course, Lamb already had a taste of discipline because of lessons his father, Calvin Lamb, taught him while he was growing up in New York.
“I am from a basketball family. My dad was a big-time basketball player in New York City. They all played. I just try to live up to his name,” Lamb said. “I started playing when I was 3 years old when he put a ball in my hands. He was not hard on me, but he made sure that I worked hard.
“Every time I wanted to go to the corner store, he had me dribble the ball in my left hand, which was my weak hand. He made me do it every time. Any time I wanted to go somewhere, I had to dribble with my left hand with my right hand behind my back. That’s why I can handle with my left hand.
“I think it gives me an advantage. Everybody thinks if you are right-handed you can’t go left, but I can go left. Half the people that guard me don’t know that even now.”
Calvin Lamb laughs and says his son “didn’t make that up” about him teaching him to use his left hand at an early age.
“He was very young but always wanted to go with me. When I wanted to go to the store, he grabbed his basketball. I challenged him to dribble with his left hand. If the ball touched his right hand, he did not get to come to the store,” Calvin Lamb said.
“But he always liked basketball. He was very good in baseball, too, but basketball became his priority. I was pretty good, but I was hard-headed and made mistakes I tried to make sure he didn’t make.”
Doron Lamb figures to play a prominent role Friday when Kentucky faces No. 1 Ohio State in the East Regional in Newark, N.J. He’s averaging 12.6 points, 2.1 rebounds and 1.8 assists per game. He’s shooting a team-best 46.9 percent from 3-point range and 79 percent at the foul line.
He is also familiar with Ohio State center Jared Sullinger, who averages a double-double.
“He is good. A great big man. He can do everything, including making foul shots and rebounding,” Lamb said. “He’s really a good scorer. He’s a good guy. I have played AAU, camp, all-star games with him. But we have to worry about us, not them. We think we can win it all. We have a great veterans, great coaches. We just have to keep it going.”
Lamb understands winning on a national stage. He played with the New York Gauchos on the AAU circuit — “I played my first tournament in Florida in the fourth grade and always liked the travel and hanging out with friends,” he said — and was named one of the top 10 players in the under-14 national tourney, and he was a dominant player at Bishop Loughlin High School before going to Oak Hill.
“I tried to show him how to shoot. He always got up plenty of shots,” Calvin Lamb said. “Days I worked, his mother would go out and just feed him the ball.
“I give her a lot of credit for that. She has always been there from day one and did it all for him. She’s been to more games than me this year, too, because her job is more versatile. But I don’t mind. If I had to pick just one parent to be at his game, I would rather her see him play than me."
“My mom took me to the park and rebounded and put cones on the court to help me. She was always helping. She would get me up to go outside to shoot or work on my game,” Doron Lamb said.
Lamb’s mother was a high school cheerleader for a team that produced NBA players.
“I like sports. I did go outside with him a lot. I always kept a job that I could be available for him, and I’ve been with him more than anybody,” Brigitte Grant said. “Sometimes kids are unsure about things when they try them. He was never like that. He was good at swimming. He was so nice in class. He kept his hands folded and always listened to the teachers, something I didn’t always do.
“He was really good in baseball, but basketball takes a lot of time, so he switched to just basketball when he was 9 years old. But everything he did, he did well. He could rollerblade. He tried to do almost everything. I liked being outside and hanging out with him, so we always had him doing something.”
Grant said he also had a knack for making friends quickly, which is one reason they stayed with the AAU Gauchos so long. “It was more like family,” she said. “But I missed him when he was gone. I have been missing him since Oak Hill. I call and text a lot and visit as much as possible.”
She even knows she might be an overly involved mother.
“I try to talk to every single person on the staff at Kentucky. I talk to the academic advisor. I want everyone in his life to know how much I appreciate what they are doing to make sure my son is happy,” Grant said. “I am always overly involved in every school he goes to because I care so much about him.”
Family is important to Lamb, and he was thrilled in February when his grandmother got to see him play in Rupp Arena.
“It was the first time my grandmother was here. It was nice, and she really enjoyed it. She was shocked a little bit about it all because she doesn’t know basketball that well, but she had a great time. You can’t stop her from enjoying herself, either,” he smiled and said. “It’s hard to tell anyone back home what UK basketball is like. Some of my friends don’t believe me, but some do.”
Even Lamb’s parents, though, were not exactly sure what to expect from their son this season, though both are thrilled he will be playing close to home Friday against Ohio State.
“I didn’t really know what to expect. It was hardest decision to just pick Kentucky. I do not even know how he made it,” Grant said. “You are thinking about so many different factors. We let him make his own decision with our input so he could feel from his heart and make his decision.
“I am really happy for him. I think his team is talented, but it was a setback not getting Enes (Kanter eligible).
“People do not understand how hard it has been on them all with limited players. It’s hard to play more minutes than players on other teams have to play. They have to play through good, bad or whatever.
“It shows how strong of young men they are to go through all that along with both the compliments and criticism they get. That’s hard at age 19, but I think he has done very well this year.”
Lamb’s father still remembers taking him to see New York Knicks games and how his son would “just study and analyze” the play. “He might talk a little among friends and joke, but he is just the way he is. He does not talk much. That helps him concentrate more on what he wants to do,” Calvin Lamb said.
His father said his son often took a “back seat” to AAU and Oak Hill teammates before blossoming more at Kentucky this season.
“But you have not truly seen him at his best yet. Trust me, there’s more to come,” Calvin Lamb said. “He’s still not playing really free yet. Right now he is still playing like he is accepting just to be there instead of stepping up and letting everyone know what he can really do.
“I don’t know if it is him or the coach. But he went through the same thing in high school and then Oak Hill, so I don’t worry about it.
“He can always score. He can pass, too. There are a lot of things he can do. He just has to open up and be more versatile and be himself. I don’t think he is really himself yet.
“But to me, he is the perfect teammate. Who would not want to play with a guy like that? He is unselfish, willing to sacrifice and still produces like he does. Not too many players can do that.”
Doron Lamb appreciates his father’s praise, but tries to downplay it.
“I have had an up-and-down season. I am playing inconsistent out there too much,” he said. “My dad is hard all the time. Even when I played a good game, he used to tell me what I did wrong. He tells me what to do.
“It helps me a lot to keep improving my skills, and him letting me know what I did wrong makes me better. That’s why I really don’t know what to make of him saying there’s more to come. I just hope he’s right.”