Derrick Jasper may not be playing anymore, but he’s not planning to leave big-time college basketball in the near future.
Jasper, a former Paso Robles High star who recently finished his senior season at UNLV, confirmed Tuesday that he has accepted a graduate assistant position on the coaching staff at Texas Tech. He’ll start next week.
The move to Lubbock will reunite Jasper with Red Raiders head coach Billy Gillispie, who coached Jasper during his sophomore season at Kentucky in 2007-08. Gillispie was hired by the Red Raiders after Pat Knight was let go in March following a 13-19 season.
“I’m excited to go out there and work hard,” Jasper said. “It’s a great opportunity for me to get my feet wet.”
Jasper’s prep career is regarded as one of the greatest in San Luis Obispo County history. As a senior in 2005-06, he led the Bearcats to a 24-4 overall record, an undefeated PAC 5 championship and to the semifinals of the CIF-Southern Section Division II-A playoffs.
Jasper’s coach at Paso Robles, Scott Larson, said his composed demeanor and humble presence concealed his intensity and command, qualities he feels will translate well to coaching.
“Derrick’s the kind of person who’s pretty quiet, so I think what he says to people will be respected,” Larson said. “He’s not going to be talking a mile-a-minute filling kids’ heads with stuff that may or may not be true. When he says something, he means it.”
Heading into the college ranks, Jasper had established himself on the radar for a possible pro career because of his rare combination of a 6-foot-6 frame, athleticism and court vision. He was named the MVP of the Adidas Super 64 Tournament in Las Vegas and was ranked as the fifth-best point guard in his class nationally by Rivals.com. But a series of injuries derailed those plans.
As a true freshman at Kentucky, Jasper started 27 games, and the Wildcats won their first 11 with him in the starting lineup.
Prior to the start of his sophomore year, though, Jasper underwent microfracture surgery for a left knee injury.
After only a 10-game absence for rehabilitating, Jasper returned to the floor, a surprise to many.
Later that year, Larson could vividly recall watching firsthand Jasper battle “on one leg” during an NCAA Tournament game in Anaheim. “He wanted it so bad,” Larson said. “He was willing to fight through that stuff.
“Most people can’t play at that level, anyway, but to be injured and do it takes quite a bit of savvy and determination.”
In the high-stakes world of Kentucky basketball, speculation on blogs and message boards ran rampant that Gillispie — who had taken over the program when Jasper’s recruiter, Tubby Smith, left for Minnesota — had rushed Jasper back too soon.
Jasper said any fallout or rift between he and Gillispie was widely blown out of proportion.
“There’s no hard feelings,” he said.
The ensuing transfer brought him within a half-day drive of home and also reunited him with former AAU teammate Tre’Von Willis, who’s from Fresno.
Per NCAA rules, Jasper redshirted his first year at UNLV, and used the time off to make the knee stronger.
He was voted the Mountain West Conference Preseason Newcomer of the Year before the start of his junior season, and started the first 21 games for the Runnin’ Rebels, averaging 6.7 points, 4.9 rebounds and 2.9 assists.
It was then, though, that he suffered another injury to the same knee, this time a season-ending sprain on a freak play.
He returned as a senior to start 21 of 32 games, averaging 5.1 points, 4.2 rebounds and 1.8 assists.
Jasper, 23, had already graduated, earning a bachelor’s degree in university studies the previous spring.
A year ago at this time, he interned at a local casino and hotel, and then began working toward a second degree at UNLV.
In time, he said, he moved on from the idea of chasing a pro career overseas, given concerns over potential long-term lingering effects from his injuries.
“I knew my knee wouldn’t last another couple years,” Jasper said.
In his new role, Jasper’s hoping to help others realize their dreams.
“I wanted to help someone else out, and help someone else get to the NBA,” he said.
He then reached out to Gillispie, who had previously told him at Kentucky that his door was open in the future.
“It definitely has been a long-term goal of mine, and I always wanted to get involved in coaching,” Jasper said. “I’m looking forward to wherever it leads me.”