Visiting players are rarely a major attraction at Santa Cruz Warriors games.
Crowds at Kaiser Permanente Arena normally come out for the affordable tickets, carne asada nachos and the chance to see a few hoopers who could end up working their way into the Golden State Warriors’ rotation one day.
Thursday wasn’t a normal night, though.
Seaside native Jamaree Bouyea, who led USF to the NCAA Tournament in his final college season, played on the Central Coast for the first time in his professional career as his Sioux Falls Skyforce played the first leg of a back-to-back against the Warriors.
“It’s good to be home,” Bouyea said. “To have my family and friends support me, even as everybody’s dealing with the flooding right now, I truly appreciate it.”
Bouyea scored just eight points in 34 minutes of the 126-103 loss, a far cry from his 34-point performance in Monday’s win over the Stockton Kings, but received enormous applause during the starting lineups and after each of the four baskets he made.
“There was a lot of excitement in the crowd, even though I didn’t make too many shots,” he said.
A handful of USF and Palma jerseys and hats were sprinkled in alongside the blue and yellow throughout the crowd. Bouyea’s mother, Lawanda, sat courtside, and plenty of his mentors were on hand, including Jason Hieb, who coached his Seaside’s Finest AAU teams, and Palma coach Kelley Lopez.
“I played here in high school a bunch of times, and I watched a bunch of the G League games,” said Bouyea, who graduated from Palma in 2017. “Being back here is special. My mom always dreamed of me being here, and so did I.”
The 831 area code has produced solid athletes for decades, such as Orlando Johnson, who played parts of three seasons in the NBA, but only a small handful of athletes from Santa Cruz or Monterey counties ever get to actually play a professional game in their home territory like Bouyea did.
He did get to play one true home game in college. Poor air quality in the Bay Area forced the Dons to relocate a 2018 game against LIU Brooklyn to CSU Monterey Bay, a game that suddenly transformed from a ho-hum non-conference affair to a celebration of one of Monterey County’s best hoopers.
Despite Thursday’s outcome and Bouyea’s 4-for-10 shooting performance, it was a similar celebration of all he’s accomplished. The wiry 6-foot-2 guard who took his lone Division I offer out of high school and propelled the one program that believed in him to its first NCAA Tournament appearance in over two decades was back.
After Friday’s game, the Skyforce make one more return to Northern California for a Mar. 18 visit to Stockton. Two weeks earlier, they’ll be in Los Angeles County for a pair of games against the South Bay Lakers, who play in a 750-seat venue in El Segundo.
Thursday and Friday could be the lone games Bouyea plays in his home region for his entire professional career. His Exhibit 10 contract only lasts through this season. Whether he stays with the Miami Heat organization, finds a home with another pro club in the United States or looks at playing overseas remains to be seen, although he evidently has a good relationship with the Heat.
“We’re in good communication,” Bouyea said. “They always come down and talk to our coaches.”
While most G League teams are located close to their parent organization, Sioux Falls is far from Miami, both geographically and culturally. The only thing resembling a direct flight between the two is an Allegiant Air route from Sioux Falls to Fort Lauderdale.
“Sioux Falls is a great place, but it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere,” Bouyea said of the city of nearly 200,000, nestled in the southeastern corner of South Dakota near the borders of Iowa and Minnesota. “I love living there, and I love being part of the organization, but being back close to home is something special.”
Ethan Kassel can be reached at [email protected]