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Anthony Lamb’s Rochester roots made him a Vermont star and a real NBA prospect

The reigning America East Player of the Year has helped guide Vermont to a pair of NCAA tournament appearances in three seasons.

When her son Anthony was in middle school, Rachel Lamb remembers looking out the window of her Rochester, N.Y. home and into the front yard. Anthony was running sprints, up and down the driveway.

“It was almost like a punishment,” Rachel said. “I had a basketball hoop in the front yard and he would be out there taking shots. And if he missed, he would make himself run.

“When I saw that, I knew he was serious about basketball.”

Anthony Lamb can’t quite remember when the goal settled into his mind. It might’ve been when he first picked up a basketball, or when he saw his first shot sink softly through a net. It might’ve been those times when he was running up and down his driveway.

Regardless of when he decided it, Lamb wanted to play the sport at the highest level.

“When I started playing, I loved it right away,” Lamb said. “I’ve always wanted to continue to play and get better and better and play against the best people I can.”

But just playing was never enough for Lamb.

There’s an old cliché that’s said so much that many people believe it as gospel: Winning isn’t everything.

But don’t count Lamb as someone who believes that. For him, winning is absolutely, without a doubt, everything.

“Winning is the most important part,” Lamb said. “In the end, that’s all that people really remember. The sport of basketball is really fun to play, but I don’t want to be forgotten, or be behind anyone else.”

That desire has always driven Lamb, the reigning America East Player of the Year. It’s taken him from humble beginnings and some tough times in Rochester — where his mom raised him, mostly on her own — to the University of Vermont, where he’s led the Catamounts to a pair of NCAA Tournament appearances in three years.

And it’s pushed him to where he stands now, as a legitimate NBA prospect.

Lamb was one of many college players who tested out the league’s draft process this year. With his Vermont coaches and his mom by his side, and with the help of an agent, Lamb navigated the murky NBA Draft waters. He landed workouts with the Boston Celtics, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Atlanta Hawks.

Ultimately, Lamb took all that feedback in and decided to return to Vermont for his senior season.

“I wasn’t sure what he was going to do, but it was all going to be based on what the NBA had to say in regards to where he was, and they pretty much said he wouldn’t get drafted this year,” Rachel Lamb said.

While Lamb elected not to enter the draft this year, the process was anything but a waste of time. Lamb learned a lot about the NBA, the NCAA, basketball, life, and himself.

“I’m very grateful for this experience, because I know a lot of people don’t even get this chance,” Lamb said. “I’m really driven to find out how far I can go and to not limit myself in any way. I’m going to continue to pursue my dream.”

According to Basketball Reference, no player from the University of Vermont has ever played in a regular season NBA game. The closest a Catamount has come to getting NBA minutes was when Marcus Blakely sat on the bench for a Houston Rockets contest in 2011.

A process like the NBA Draft can be difficult to navigate. Lamb’s Vermont coaches were his biggest help. Not only were they working him out in Burlington, but they made sure that his eligibility stayed intact.

That might sound easy, but while the NCAA loosened its grip on what NBA prospects can do between the end of the college season and the NBA Draft, they still haven’t clearly spelled out what is and isn’t a violation.

“It’s still very blurry about what you can and can’t do. You feel like you’re treading on thin ice,” Lamb said. “At the start, it’s like, ‘Is this available? Can I do this? Can I talk to this person?’ Just laying it all explicitly or having like a database where kids can look up what they can and can’t do, I feel like that would help out.”

In addition to his Vermont coaches, Lamb also had the help of agent Sam Cipriano to make his way through the draft process, where one misstep could’ve resulted in the loss of his college eligibility.

But this was nothing for Lamb. He’s been through much tougher circumstances in his life.

And in every step of the way, he’s always had his mom there for support and as a person to look up to.

“I couldn’t be more proud of him,” Rachel Lamb said. “He uses the negative to push him. I’m pretty confident he’ll get picked next year, because he’s the type of person that only gets better and he just keeps working and working.”

Vermont v Florida State Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Pregnant at the age of 16, Rachel Lamb fled Florida and moved in with an aunt in Rochester so she could keep her son. Months later, Rachel moved out and met the father of her second child, whom she would stay with for about 10 years.

“We did the best we could do,” Rachel said. “Anthony didn’t know his biological father until he was 18-years-old, and that was my fault, but I think he was better off. God worked it out from him not knowing his dad to now, where him and his dad have a great relationship. Rather than his dad saying he didn’t want him, his dad didn’t even know about him.”

According to the 2018 census, nearly 25,000 children in Rochester live beneath the poverty line. Among the 75 largest cities in the country, Rochester is the third-poorest, just ahead of Cleveland and Detroit.

But Rachel would often work 70 to 80 hours a week to pay the bills and make sure her boys had everything they needed. She worked for a long time in geriatric care and now works in roofing. And when she wasn’t around, Anthony kept busy by shooting hoops.

“With her as the only person to look up to outside of the basketball court, I just tried to emulate her focus,” Lamb said of his mother. “She’s real passionate about us and basketball, maybe even more than me. But she really looked out for me all the time and always kept pushing me to be the person I am today.”

Rachel played basketball growing up, but didn’t stick with it through high school. That’s difficult to do when you’re caring for a child. But her love for the game never left her.

She remembers when Anthony first stepped foot on a basketball court when he was just eight months old. Rachel’s sister was playing Division II ball at Saint Leo in Florida and Rachel took her son to see his aunt play.

Anthony would start playing basketball on teams in third grade, and by fifth grade he was already around six feet tall. Rachel remembers one game where Anthony had about 30 rebounds, simply because he was bigger than all of the other kids.

Around the time that Anthony started running those sprints in the driveway, he expressed to his mom that he was serious about playing basketball. Each year, Rachel would take all of her money from her tax returns and spend it on fees for basketball camps and teams for Anthony and her younger son, Timothy.

“It means a lot to me,” Rachel said. “I just want the best for my kids and I want my kids to have better than what I had. I hated the fact that I had to work 70, 80 hours a week to survive, but at the same time, I’m glad that they saw that.”

While his mom worked tirelessly, Lamb frequented gyms, driveways and blacktops, honing his game. He found a place on the Albany City Rocks AAU team, enduring long commutes for basketball. But with that AAU team is where Lamb met Hamlet Tibbs, who would soon land a job as an assistant coach at the University of Vermont.

NCAA Basketball: NCAA Tournament-Hartford Practice Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Lamb eventually became a three-star recruit and a finalist for New York’s Mr. Basketball award. Lamb says he had around 30 offers by the time his recruitment wound down. He booked his five official visits, and the first was to Burlington, Vermont, a progressive city about six hours away from Rochester, home to 43,000 people and an overwhelming number of breweries.

John Becker was in his fifth season as head coach of the Catamounts when Tibbs told him about Lamb.

“We were graduating a lot, so he knew he’d be able to come in and contribute right away,” Becker said. “And then we had the high academics and the winning basketball program and a loyal fanbase, where basketball really matters.”

Lamb fell in love hard and fast with Vermont. He knew right away that the Catamounts was where he wanted to be. He cancelled his remaining four official visits and committed to Becker, Tibbs and Vermont shortly after.

“Coming out of high school, the process was a little overwhelming for me,” Lamb said. “Nobody stuck out more than Vermont. I felt real at home with the people here. I saw an opportunity to play and I saw an opportunity to be at a place where I could be very successful and learn a lot about myself.”

“Hamlet Tibbs had a lot do with that,” Rachel added. “He’s an awesome guy. When we went to Vermont, Anthony really felt comfortable. He liked the atmosphere, John Becker was great. I told him to use [his other official visits] as free vacations, but he said that was just wasting their time and their money.”

Rachel has been able to attend many of her son’s collegiate games over the years and see him blossom into one of the best mid-major players in the country. She says she’s only missed nine home games in Anthony’s three years and she’s been to both of the Catamounts’ NCAA tournament games.

A versatile 6-foot-7 wing, Lamb made an impact on Becker’s Catamounts right away. As a freshman, he was named America East Rookie of the Year, the conference tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the team in scoring, rebounding and blocks, and led Vermont to an NCAA Tournament appearance.

“Once we got him on campus in the summer before his freshman year, we felt really good about his talent level,” Becker said. “Then it was just fitting him into our culture and finding him a role.”

Despite an effort of 20 points, nine rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block from Lamb, Vermont fell in the first round of that NCAA Tournament, losing to Purdue by 10 points. But Lamb knew better days were ahead and he was looking to make a leap as a sophomore.

And then, Lamb fractured his left foot. He’d miss a large chunk of his sophomore season and was essentially sidelined for about two months, sitting out nearly all of regular season conference play. He came back for the regular season finale at Maine, but played just 11 minutes. In the conference tournament final loss to UMBC, he played just 23 minutes and scored only five points.

“Before that, the worst I had was like an ankle sprain,” Lamb said. “The hardest part was just like, how people treat you differently. Not intentionally, but your coaches can’t put as much time into you. They have a job to do. You realize how important just doing your job is to the team.”

While Lamb was injured, he wanted to be that guy who could talk to his teammates on the sidelines during timeouts and make suggestions in huddles. But then he realized he was just getting in the way of his teammates and coaches trying to win. So then Lamb just focused on trying not to be a disturbance. And his time on the bench gave him a different perspective of the game.

“It made me more complete, understanding that it’s not just one thing you do that helps the team,” Lamb said. “There’s multiple things that you have to be able and willing to do to get the job done, from multiple different places.”

Healthy heading into his junior season, Lamb’s game took a leap. He averaged per-game career-highs in points (21.2), rebounds (7.8), assists (2.3), steals (0.9), blocks (1.9) and three-pointers made (1.6). Lamb poured in some big scoring performances too, notching 42 points against St. Bonaventure, pouring 37 on Harvard, and scoring 34 points against Yale and Maine.

Lamb’s three-point shooting improved too. His attempts per-game from outside went from 1.8 as a freshman to 4.3 as a junior and he knocked down 36.5 percent of those shots.

“That was something we focused on early in his career, just him being more comfortable on the perimeter,” Becker said. “Obviously, his bread and butter is his power game in the paint, being able to move people around and having tremendous footwork and being able to shoot the ball with both hands with different finishes. But he’s evolved and stretched his game out.”

Lamb went on to claim the America East Player of the Year award and was also named an All-American honorable mention by the Associated Press. Vermont made the NCAA Tournament again, but fell again in the First Round, losing by seven points to Florida State.

When the season ended, Lamb began weighing his options.

“With the numbers I put up and the success we had, I felt like it was a good time to see and learn what I can from this process,” Lamb said.

He says that NBA coaches told him to work on handling the ball, shooting from the NBA three-point line, making plays off the dribble and making quick decisions. Another area NBA coaches told Lamb he needs to improve on is guarding multiple positions on the perimeter.

“We’ll put him in situations where he can work on those things,” Becker said. “And then if he gets good enough at them, we’ll put him in a position to showcase his game as it evolves.”

With Lamb back in the fold, Becker has a Vermont team that should not only be the favorite to win the America East again in 2020, but a team that also has the potential to win an NCAA Tournament game. If that happens, it would be the first time since 2005 that the Catamounts appeared in the Second Round of the tournament.

Becker lost just two players — Ernie Duncan and Samuel Dingba — from last year’s team that won 27 games. He’s added Daniel Giddens, a 6-foot-11 grad transfer from Alabama, and now he also has an extremely motivated Lamb leading the team.

“The thing about Anthony Lamb, what he cares about the most above and beyond everything else, is winning and being a great teammate,” Becker said. “And he’s been that all three years he’s been here.”

The NBA is on hold, but the goal of reaching it remains for Lamb, who is driven to not only play at the highest level, but to win at any cost. And he’s going to keep getting better. The kid from Rochester hasn’t peaked yet.

“I think I’ve continued to grow,” Lamb said. “I know I’m not even close to where I can be.”

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