By CHAD WELCH • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
When Jack Lambert graduated from Cooperstown Central School, he was second on the boys’ basketball program’s career scoring list and as a senior had led his team to the school’s first-ever Class C state championship in boys basketball, while earning Most Outstanding Player honors after setting several state tournament scoring records. He was also named the NYSPHAA Class C Player of the Year in 2019.
However, when he arrived to play for the men’s basketball team at the University of Scranton, he was just another freshman player trying to earn some playing time for a perennial Division III powerhouse.
“It’s definitely a transition. I mean, I am proud of all the things I accomplished in high school, and that was awesome,” Lambert said. “But when you get to college, especially at a very competitive Division III level, it’s a whole new ballgame.”
“The University of Scranton, it’s a pretty historic program, top 10 in wins of all Division III programs in the country,” Lambert said. “All of my teammates are incredibly good players and they’re there for a reason. I’m there for a reason.”
During head coach Carl Danzig’s 18-year tenure, the Royals have won nine conference championships, including seven of the last twelve as members of the Landmark Conference, after leaving the Freedom Conference, according to the team’s media guide.
Lambert said his freshman year was a big adjustment, from figuring out new drills in practice on the fly, to the size, strength and speed of college players, to having a much different role as a newcomer, after years of being a team leader.
“It was just a learning curve where now I’m playing against 22-year-old seniors that are much bigger than me and the game is much faster,” he said. “And it was definitely weird going from a program in Cooperstown, where I had the ball in my hands a lot, to where that wasn’t the case in Scranton.”
During the 2019-20 season, Lambert appeared in 10 of Scranton’s 27 games, playing a total of 36 minutes and averaging 3.6 minutes and 1.3 points per game. He scored in five games and made a three-pointer in three of them for 13 points on 4-for-10 shooting including 3-for-6 of his three-point field goal attempts.
The Royals were voted first in the Landmark Conference coaches’ preseason poll and finished the season with a 19-8 record, 10-4 in conference. They were the third seed in the conference tournament and fell to top-seeded Susquehanna University in the conference championship game.
Lambert said going head-to-head against great competition in practice every day last year helped him improve as a player and as a result he saw an increase in playing time this season.
“As a freshman, I was a real skinny kid and I definitely worked on that a bunch, put on some weight and I think that really helped me going into my sophomore year,” he said. “My personal growth in strength and stability, awareness of the competition and the speed of college was really improved and that really paid off.
“I was definitely feeling a lot more confident and your confidence just builds up and builds up and builds up, that’s kind of how it works,” he said.
The 2021 season was limited to 10 games, as only five of the eight Landmark Conference teams opted to participate, Lambert said. In addition to Scranton, Drew University, Catholic University, Moravian College and Juanita College opted in.
The regular season consisted of home and away games against all four opponents followed by the conference tournament. The Royals went 7-3 overall and 6-2 in the conference, splitting their two-game series with Drew and Catholic.
Lambert played in every game, with a total of 101 minutes played and 25 points scored, for averages of 10.1 minutes and 2.5 points per game. He played 23 minutes in the first game of the season against Moravian and scored a career high 10 points while making three of his five three-point attempts.
He said his personal highlight was making a three-pointer in overtime at Juanita on Feb. 26, which helped the Royals to a 64-60 win. It was his only made field goal out of three attempts, all three-pointers, in 14 minutes of action.
Scranton was the second seed in the conference tournament. They beat Catholic at home, 87-80, in double overtime March 3, in the semifinal game before losing the championship game at first-seeded Drew, 84-78, in overtime March 6.
“I think our best win was beating Catholic in the semi-finals, that was just a great team win,” Lambert said. “It was a nail-biter.”
“Then we ended up losing in overtime to Drew, also a nail-biter, in a game we really should have won, because we were up by three with five seconds left and a guy on Drew dribbled down the court, threw up a prayer that banked in to send it to overtime. So that was a tough one,” he said.
While it was a good year, Lambert said he is already looking forward to being an upperclassman next season, earning a significant increase in playing time and helping the Royals win a title.
“I’m really looking forward to next year,” he said. “I’ve put in my time in and I’m ready to break out of my shell this next year. The past two years we’ve fallen short, so I’m definitely pretty hungry and excited to get back out there and hopefully win a Landmark Championship.”
Lambert said his decision to go to Scranton ended up being a perfect fit and he felt welcomed from the beginning of his recruitment.
“The coaches were really great to me. They came to the last four or five games of our state championship run, they were awesome,” he said. “They showed me around campus, I got to meet a few of the guys and related with them pretty well”
“I couldn’t have chosen a better school. I love my teammates and coaches and the place itself. It’s really a special place, a diamond in the rough. I couldn’t be happier, not only to have great teammates but they are lifelong friends now, so it’s awesome.”
Lambert is majoring in business management with a minor in communications and said he plans to pursue a master’s in business administration after graduation.