For Jalen Lecque and ‘Jam Fam,’ Road to Pros Paved with More Than YouTube Hits

Jalen Lecque remembers exactly where he was when he first went viral.

The then-junior at Monsignor Scanlan High School in the Bronx was on the Q44 bus back home to Teaneck, New Jersey, when he saw the video on YouTube. There he was, on Primetime Hoops, slicing through the defense for scores and draining a clutch shot to carry the Crusaders to a 58-57 road win over Isaiah Washington—of “Jelly Fam” fame—and St. Raymond High School for Boys in the first round of the Catholic High School Athletic Association playoffs.

“I saw that,” Jalen tells CloseUp360, “and I was just, like, ‘I've got to keep going. I got to do it.’”

So Jalen kept going, and the mixtapes kept coming—as did the views. Fans couldn’t seem to get enough of Jalen jumping out of the gym, throwing down thunderous dunks and pulling up for silky smooth jumpers. In the summer of 2017, HoopDiamonds dropped a reel of Jalen’s highlights that racked up more than 100,000 views.

The Manhattan native truly caught fire, though, in November 2017. That fall, he transferred from Monsignor Scanlan to Christ School in North Carolina—the same boarding school that the Plumlee brothers attended prior to playing at Duke University and, eventually, in the NBA. In his debut, Jalen scored 22 points to lead the Greenies to a 70-62 win over Spartanburg Day School, despite 46 points from a prep phenom named Zion Williamson.

That one meeting of rising stars spawned four different videos that have each been seen at least 800,000 times—including a game recap from Ballislife, a “Day in the Life” mini-documentary from SLAM and a stylized, strategic breakdown of the matchup from Overtime.

In the two years since then, the YouTube hits have continued to pile up, be they for mixtapes compiled during his time at Brewster Academy in New Hampshire or clips of his play with the Phoenix Suns at the NBA Las Vegas Summer League. For a young man born in this millennium like Jalen—who clocked in with a height of 6’4.5” in shoes and a 43-inch maximum vertical at the 2019 NBA Draft Combine in Chicago—each of those videos is as much a historical record of what he’s done in basketball as it is more fuel to keep his internal fire burning towards his next objective.

“I always want to top it,” he says. “I always look at it and be, like, ‘I could've did this differently, I could've did something else, I could've been more aggressive this game.’”

That approach, of favoring improvement over fame, is all the more important heading into a long weekend at the G League Winter Showcase in Las Vegas. For a talented teenager like Jalen, who's spent his rookie season shuttling between the NBA and its minor league, social media metrics—no matter how impressive—can only do so much to extend his reach towards his ultimate dream.

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Jalen Lecque first caught fire on YouTube when he was 16 years old. (Amir Ebrahimi)

Like most emerging stars who become “YouTube famous” nowadays, Jalen grew up watching mixtapes of his favorite NBA players online. He’d spend hours scouring clips of Allen Iverson, Carmelo Anthony and Russell Westbrook, at once admiring his basketball idols and hoping to emulate them some day.

Unlike those legendary hoopers, though, Jalen blew up on social media long before he turned pro—in large part because, well, that digital world hardly existed when AI, Melo and Russ were coming up. And Jalen is far from the only young talent in his cohort to have ridden that accelerated track to stardom.

Zion is the standard bearer. The 19-year-old from South Carolina has more than five million followers between Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and has been featured in 75 videos each with more than a million views on YouTube—all before he’s played a single regular-season game in the NBA.

Cole Anthony may be the biggest name in this year’s crop of outstanding collegiate freshman, though he’s not nearly the same eyeball magnet that Zion was and still is. The North Carolina guard and son of former NBA veteran Greg Anthony has more than 600,000 followers across Instagram and Twitter, and has appeared in three YouTube videos that have surpassed the million-view mark.

Before those two were budding pros, they—along with Romeo Langford, Nassir Little, Quentin Grimes, Kyree Walker and Christian Brown, among others—were part of a basketball friend group with Jalen known as the “Jam Fam.”

That brotherhood began during the summer of 2017. Zion and Nassir were both at adidas Eurocamp in Treviso, Italy, when they started talking about the famed "Jelly Fam," which was comprised primarily of high school stars in and around New York City.

"We was just talking and I was, like, 'Hey, man, we don't Jelly, we Jam,'" Nassir tells CloseUp360. "And I was just, like, 'Jam Fam.' And Zion was, like, 'Oh, that's tough.' We just kind of ran with it."

From there, Zion and Nassir repped their Jam Fam every which way they could—be it on Instagram posts or t-shirts they had made with the moniker on it. Within weeks, the product of a casual conversation in Italy became something of a movement in the basketball world.

By the time Zion and Nassir arrived at the annual adidas Nations camp later that summer, they had other prep stars lining up to join the Jam Fam. That's when Romeo, Quentin and—yes—Jalen came aboard.

With his roots in the Bronx and a childhood home in Teaneck, as well as obvious talent on the basketball court, Jalen might’ve seemed a natural fit with the Jelly Fam. He played in the same New York City high school league as Isaiah Washington, the Jelly Fam’s progenitor, and Sidney Wilson; and grew up in New Jersey, upstate from Naz Reid and in the same town as Jahvon Quinerly.

But the fancy, finger-flicking layup that Isaiah and his tri-state crew made famous didn’t quite jibe with what Jalen and his friends from the AAU circuit were all about. 

“We really didn’t want to Jelly,” Jalen says, “so we just made something for guys that dunk.”

Hence, the name Jam Fam.

Though physical distance often kept them apart, they all stayed in touch through a lively group chat. They’d trade highlight reels and jokes, “dunking” on each other in good fun.

"If somebody had a crazy dunk, we'd put it in the group chat, like, 'Wow, bro,'" Nassir says.

Within that collective and online, Jalen became known as “Baby Westbrook” for his resemblance, in both physique and style of play, to a young Russell Westbrook.

“Westbrook was one of my favorite players and still is one of my favorite players in the NBA,” Jalen says, “and he's a really good guy to look up to off the court and on the court. He's just a great individual.”

Not that Jalen is aiming to emulate Russ, per se, though he got to meet the former MVP during the NBA Las Vegas Summer League this past July.

“The name is cool and stuff,” Jalen adds, “but I'm looking to make my own path.”

In many ways, he already has, due in part to the difference in era. Rather than spend a year or two in college—Russ did the latter at UCLA—Jalen reclassified from the high school class of 2019 to 2018 and then spent a year in prep school at Brewster—the same school that produced Donovan Mitchell, Will Barton, T.J. Warren, Devonte’ Graham and a handful of other NBA players. Jalen then decommitted from North Carolina State to jump into this year’s NBA draft.

“To be 16 and have the amount of social media buzz that he has coming from the New Jersey-New York market, to go and bypass college, to go to the NBA and play with grown men, it takes a lot of confidence,” Jalen’s agent, Austin Walton of NEXT Sports, tells CloseUp360. “It takes a certain individual to believe that you're gonna have success at that level that fast, and I think that's who he is. He's extremely confident. He's also extremely humble. He works hard, but he also knew it was gonna be a long road, and some people aren't ready for that.”

That path may have prevented Jalen from playing in front of the sorts of national audiences that Zion, Nassir and Romeo found at Duke, North Carolina and Indiana, respectively. But it didn’t stop Jalen from capitalizing on his name and internet fame. Since joining Instagram last December, and despite posting just 20 times (as of this piece’s publication)—and without the benefit of hearing his name blasted across basketball broadcasts—he’s racked up more than 400,000 followers since then.

“I just try to be me, and that's the way it is,” he says. “Really do good just on and off the court, being successful and just being the best you can be and just putting in that work.

“If you have goals, try to reach those goals and put in the work for it.”

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Despite posting just 20 times during his first year on Instagram, Jalen has accumulated more than 400,000 followers. (Amir Ebrahimi)

June 20, 2019, was a banner night for the Jam Fam. The New Orleans Pelicans made Zion the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft. Romeo went to the Boston Celtics at No. 14. And the Portland Trail Blazers took Nassir off the board at No. 25.

But while Jalen was happy to see his friends in the green room realize their dreams of reaching the NBA, the mood was decidedly different inside the Lecque family’s suite at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

“It was nerve-wracking,” he recalls. “My friends say it was the worst best night of my life.”

Most mock drafts had projected him to be one of the 60 players selected. After seeing Anfernee Simons, another preps-to-pros combo guard, become the No. 24 overall pick of the Blazers in the 2018 draft, Jalen had all the more reason to believe his path would unfold similarly.

But pick after pick passed without any mention of Jalen’s name—not from Commissioner Adam Silver’s mouth in the first round, nor out of that of Deputy Commissioner Mark Tatum in the second round.

What was supposed to be a joyous culmination of a dream for Jalen was quickly turning into a nightmare—albeit more for his family and friends than for himself.

“They saw I didn't get picked so they were, like, very bummed,” he says, “and then a minute later, I got picked up, so it was the best night.”

Indeed, Jalen became the first undrafted free agent in his class to commit to an NBA team when he signed with Phoenix. While some around him might’ve feared for his future during the draft, Jalen stayed calm and cool in the knowledge of what was to come.

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Jalen was the first undrafted player to commit to an NBA team following the 2019 draft. (Amir Ebrahimi)

In truth, Jalen could’ve been one of the Jam Fam’s 2019 draftees. According to Austin, Jalen drew significant interest from a number of NBA teams, including the Suns. They liked what they’d seen from him when they pitted him against North Carolina’s Coby White, whom the Chicago Bulls wound up taking at No. 7 overall, in a one-on-one pre-draft workout. With his combination of explosiveness, fluidity, positional size and confidence, Jalen projected as an impactful backcourt defender and rebounder who, with the right coaching, could develop into a creator and shotmaker on offense.

For the Suns, Jalen looked the part of a potential first-round talent, placing him firmly in their range at No. 32.

That is, until Phoenix agreed to a three-team, salary-clearing deal that sent that pick to the Miami Heat and T.J. Warren to the Indiana Pacers.

Still, the Suns wanted Jalen—so much so that they were willing to pay him like a first-round pick, even if he went undrafted. The only problem? Austin had to make sure that all of the teams with selections left in the latter half of the second round would pass on Jalen.

So Austin wrangled three of his colleagues at NEXT Sports and had them hit the phones.

“We started calling and saying, ‘Hey, we've already got a deal with somebody, we'd really like you if you wouldn't select him, and then we can agree,’” Austin recalls. “‘Are you sure?’ And then we said, ‘Yeah, it's something that we can't pass up,’ and they said, ‘Alright, if you say so.’ And they said, ‘You better make sure it's certain.’”

Those other teams kept their word, and so did the Suns. On July 7, Jalen put pen to paper on a four-year contract in Phoenix, with the first two years and more than $2.4 million guaranteed.

That may be far from the mega millions coming to some of his Jam Fam friends, but for Jalen, it’s the opportunity that counts.

“I'm ready to go,” he says. “That's just my personality anyway. I'm not a nervous type of person and I don't really get nervous in a lot of situations. But I'm just ready to go. I've been working hard, and I just want to show what I can do and win for my team.”

Agua Caliente Clippers AT NAZ Suns Home Opener November 9, 2019 in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

Jalen signed a four-year deal with the Suns out of prep school. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

The 2019-20 NBA season got off to a slow start for the Jam Fam.

Zion hasn’t played since the preseason due to knee surgery. Nassir has started to see his role in Portland expand amid the Blazers’ injuries and team-wide struggles. Romeo played all of 14 seconds with the Celtics before the team sent him down to the G League to suit up for the Maine Red Claws.

Jalen, too, has spent the bulk of his time as a pro in the NBA’s minor league. The 100-mile drive between Phoenix and Prescott, where the Northern Arizona Suns play, has allowed him to continue revamping his jump shot and building his ball skills with Riccardo Fois, a former pro in Italy whom the team hired to be his dedicated player development coach.

The text thread that once buzzed between some of Gen Z’s preeminent basketball stars has since fallen largely silent. That may have something to do with the lack of new viral content to share between them amid the challenges of their respective rookie campaigns. But even if cameras from Ballislife, SLAM and Overtime were scouring G League gyms, the former high school stars on which they once fixated have more important matters to attend to than swapping YouTube links.

"We busy. We been busy," Nassir says. "But it's crazy looking at it now, like four or five of us are in the NBA right now, a couple more on that same path in a few years to come. We all been doing pretty big things."

Jalen, for one, is getting used to a fourth different state in as many years. This time, though, he has his whole family with him. His father, Derrick, and mother, Michelle, are helping Jalen get settled. They’re also busy looking after his younger brother, Dasean, who’s now a sophomore at Desert Vista High School in Phoenix.

Jalen, meanwhile, is still adapting to the lifestyle of a professional basketball player. He has given up burgers, pizza and other fast foods, and is learning the ins and outs of self-maintenance at the next level. That includes staying off his feet when he’s not practicing or playing, which makes the time he spends watching Netflix and Hulu, or playing his favorite video games (i.e. Fortnite, Mortal Kombat and Madden), both entertaining and beneficial.

“Just being a pro on and off the court,” he says. “Just knowing what to do to take care of your body, knowing what's wrong with your body and prevent it from happening.”

Agua Caliente Clippers AT NAZ Suns Home Opener November 9, 2019 in Prescott Valley, Ariz. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

Jalen has spent most of his rookie season in the G League with the Northern Arizona Suns. (Matt Hinshaw/NAZ Suns)

Those things may not be as exciting as the flashy dunks and flood of fanfare he found when he was in high school, but they’ll be all the more vital to his efforts to become a bona fide NBA player in the years to come.

“It's fun being here,” he says of his time in the G League, “just working on my game every day, and being with good guys and good coaches.”

Not that the exciting stuff isn’t still part of Jalen’s life. For one, he already has fans wearing his jersey, even though his NBA career has barely begun. He’s reshared those instances of support on social media, hoping to return the love to his fans that he wished he could’ve gotten from his own basketball idols.

“There's a lot of surreal stuff that happens in the world and that I've been seeing,” Jalen says, “so just taking it all in and just trying to have it as motivation.”

During the preseason, he made waves on the web with a windmill dunk in the Suns’ open practice at Talking Stick Resort Arena in Phoenix.

And though there’s more to Jalen’s game than just jamming—he averaged 13.8 points, 2.8 rebounds and 2.6 assists through mid-December—he hasn’t stopped holding it down for the Jam Fam since he landed in the G League.

Nowadays, Jalen’s on-court highlights aren’t likely to make him a viral sensation, at least not directly. But if he plays well and catches enough eyeballs with his hops along the way—and the Suns slip out of playoff contention in the coming weeks—he just might be in the NBA in time to earn an invitation to the Slam Dunk Contest at All-Star Weekend in Chicago.

There, all eyes would be on him once again.

“That would be a good opportunity for me,” he says. “I wish I can do it, but it's a step at a time I'm taking.”

 

Josh Martin is the Editorial Director of CloseUp360. He previously covered the NBA for Bleacher Report and USA Today Sports Media Group, and has written for Yahoo! Sports and Complex. He is also the co-host of the Hollywood Hoops podcast. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.