Published 12:00 am Saturday, February 11, 2012

By Ed Cassiere

Special to L’Observateur

In a ninth-grade biology class at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Jamaan Kenner made a discovery. He wanted to attend medical school.

“It was my first biology class. It was a college-level class,” said Kenner, a 6-foot-4 senior guard on the Xavier University of Louisiana men’s basketball team. “We were studying the body. I was intrigued.”

Eight years later his journey continues. Kenner, a biology/pre-medical major, has been accepted to the School of Medicine of LSU Health Sciences Center at Shreveport. Three other applications are pending, but it’s nice to have one in the bag. Kenner is a starter for the Gold Rush — a defensive and 3-point-shooting specialist — and has helped Xavier win 18 of 24 games this season and earn a No. 25 ranking in this week’s NAIA Division I coaches poll. With one semester to complete, his cumulative grade-point average at Xavier is 3.62. He survived organic chemistry, the MCAT and his first interview for medical school.

“I was nervous at first at the interview. But I didn’t get any hard questions,” Kenner said. “They just wanted to know who you are.”

No doubt about it — these are good times for Kenner. He’s earned them.

“When I think of Jamaan, I think of sacrifice,” XU head coach Dannton Jackson said. “Other students are probably having more fun than he is. Jamaan has been playing college basketball and going through a strenuous curriculum at a tough university to prepare for medical school. But he has displayed the character, the work ethic and the discipline to do both. And he’s just as good a person as he is a student and a basketball player. He’s balanced.”

As a child Kenner pursued good grades “because I was scared of getting in trouble with my dad.” But as he got older, his rationale changed. He wanted to better himself. Fears turned into something positive.

“When I started getting good grades, I didn’t want to slack off,” Kenner said. “My family has been motivational. They’ve believed I could become a doctor more than I’ve believed. And I’ve always believed I could do this.”

Kenner didn’t remain at Jesuit. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, he enrolled at East St. John High School in his hometown, LaPlace, La., and didn’t miss a beat. At ESJ he was a member of an eight-student team which received second place in the Junior Engineering Technical Society’s Test of Engineering, Aptitude, Mathematics and Science Competition.

He chose Xavier over city rival Loyola and NCAA Division I member William & Mary. “Xavier was the best fit for me,” Kenner said. “The sciences are great here, it was close to home, and Coach Jackson was always nice to me. He’s always understood that school comes first.”

The past two summers Kenner participated in breast cancer research in XU’s College of Pharmacy under the guidance of Dr. KiTani Parker-Johnson.

“Jamaan was a joy to have in the lab. He did so well the first summer that we brought him back the next summer,” Parker-Johnson said. “That doesn’t happen often. I was impressed with his work ethic, his tenacity and his focus. He has good hands, which is important in bench research. He was able to tweak an experiement and get the results he was looking for.”

Kenner plans to concentrate on sports medicine — “I haven’t decided yet on primary care or surgery,” he said — and if he has his way, he’ll be back in New Orleans to stay.

“My goal is to be the team doctor for one of the local teams,” Kenner said.

“The Saints or the Hornets — that would be perfect.”