Jamison Battle would walk the halls of his high school sometimes with a basketball in one hand and a musical instrument in the other.
The saxophone was his favorite. One still sits under Battle's bed at home today.
The Gophers forward has the shooting range of an NBA three-point marksman, but the 6-7, 220-pound junior is also defined by who he is off the court. His mom, Darcy Goede, made sure of it.
"I tried to make him well-rounded growing up because I didn't want sports to be the focus," she said.
He thought his music playing days were behind him, but he said picking up the sax again this fall helped him mentally as he recovered from foot surgery. He's still working to get himself into top form. There's been some rust in his first few games, but being sidelined put basketball into perspective.
"The biggest thing was it just got to the point where I was doing nothing," said Battle, who'll lead the Gophers into Sunday's Big Ten opener at Purdue. "My saxophone was under my bed, so it was something to get my mind off the injury."
Battle's season debut came in a 62-61 overtime win Nov. 21 against Cal Baptist, a game his mother traveled to see in California.
"My mom was pretty much the one who helped me through it," Battle said. "She knows the goals I have and that I needed to get back on the court. She's my biggest supporter."
Music to mother's ear
Mom's piano lessons were not Battle's favorite. He had to learn them, anyway, starting in the first grade. Goede knew it would allow her son to pick up music easier as he got older.
"I played piano, so it was important to me," said Goede, who raised Battle and put him into Catholic school where his passion for music grew.
Battle joined the band in elementary school. Once his eyes met the saxophone, it was love at first sight. First the alto, then later the baritone.
"I could go back home right now and play sheet music," he said.
Ben Johnson, while still a Gophers assistant, was the first college coach to see Battle in an open gym his sophomore year at Benilde-St. Margaret's. Little did Johnson know when recruiting him at the time, Battle was also a second chair saxophonist in the high school band.
At George Washington University, Battle played saxophone during a Christmas video for his college team. Now that he's playing again, the Gophers probably wouldn't mind listening. They admire his passion for things outside of basketball, including European soccer, video games and playing golf.
"I love that he doesn't try to box himself into one thing," Johnson said. "[Battle's mom's] biggest thing was the academic piece, but then to make sure he's in an environment that's going to continue to grow him off the court."
Battle was one of the Big Ten's best shooters last season, but the smooth left-handed jumper that would become his biggest strength took years of work, like his ability to play the sax.
"He always played in the post," Goede said. "We didn't want him to shoot threes when he was little to develop bad form."
As a second-grader, Battle earned the nickname "J-Mo" from a trainer in Hopkins, and it stuck. Not the biggest or most athletic kid, he played in Eden Prairie's traveling program and for solid AAU teams.
A three-sport athlete, Battle was a natural in football and baseball, but said "basketball was always there."
Battle's father, Terrell, played basketball at Winston-Salem State in North Carolina. His younger half-sister, Amaya, now a Gophers freshman guard, later starred at Hopkins. But his mother got him into a few sports like she played.
"He was absolutely the easiest kid to coach and just a sponge," said Matt Steensland, who coached his son and Battle in AAU basketball in third through sixth grade. "There were a lot of moments early where it wasn't coming easy for him. There's something to J-Mo that he persevered through it. A lot of kids would've given up."
Tuning the body
Battle wasn't ranked among the top 10 players in the state's 2019 high school class that included Matthew Hurt, Zeke Nnaji, Tyrell Terry and David Roddy, who were all on an NBA path.
But transferring to DeLaSalle for his junior year put him in position to compete for a championship.
In the state tournament his senior year, Battle averaged 25 points during a Class 3A title run for DeLaSalle with Terry as a teammate. Still, he admits, "I really don't think I took basketball as seriously as I do now."
"I wasn't doing things I probably could've done," Battle said. "I wasn't in the best shape."
D1 Minnesota coach Jay Fuhrman said Battle was the best shooter on his AAU team that featured Hurt, Nnaji, Terry, and current Wisconsin star Tyler Wahl. But high major schools still didn't offer him a scholarship, including the Gophers.
"I don't think he was quite athletically ready to go to a high major," Fuhrman said. "And if he did, he wouldn't get the minutes he got at George Washington. That's way more valuable."
At GW, Battle set school freshman three-point records in 2018-19, but his coaches wanted him to lose weight to play wing. Battle's first summer back from college, he finally got serious about his body. He lost 20 pounds, with his mom making his meals.
A similar scenario played out this summer after Battle bulked up to nearly 240 pounds to play inside last season for the Gophers. He lost 17 pounds and got down to 7% body fat to be more athletic and quicker this year.
"The biggest thing was changing your diet and your daily habits," Battle said. "It was a testament to my mom. During COVID she cooked me meals. She was the one who was helping me make sure I was on top of my stuff."
When Battle entered the transfer portal at George Washington, he strongly considered Miami. And then he watched during the NCAA tournament last season when the Hurricanes made a run to the Sweet 16.
Battle, who was Johnson's first commit last year, had no regrets when the Gophers went from a 10-1 start to finish 13-17 and last in the Big Ten.
"It was a hard decision," Goede said. "He looked at that, but he had a great year at Minnesota. It's home. Friends and family got to watch him."
The first Gophers player to earn All-Big Ten preseason honors since Marcus Carr in 2020, Battle was the third-leading scorer returning in the conference at 17.5 points per game.
With barely any practice before his first games, Battle got off to a slow start. He's a main target on opponent's scouting reports. But another adjustment was playing for the first time with another talented forward in Dawson Garcia, who led the team in his absence. Battle is averaging 11.3 points while shooting loss than 30% from the field.
"It's going to take Jamison time to feel exactly the way he did before the injury," Johnson said. "We'll see what we can do to get him into rhythm and get him easy looks."
In many ways, Battle is still the humble, well-rounded sax-playing kid about more than just basketball. Mom is to thank for that — and he's making her proud blossoming in his own skin.
"When you have someone like her in your corner," Battle said, "there's no reason why you won't do everything in your power to succeed."