When his father arrived home with the body of an old Ford Roadster one day, nine-year-old Jamion Christian was a bit skeptical.”My dad’s not a mechanic or anything like that,” Christian said. “I was like ‘What are you going to do with that car?’”
Over the next nine months, young Jamion marveled as the classic ride sprang back to life, often landing a flashlight beam in just the right spot or lending a hand to hold a bolt in place.
After work and on weekends, John A. Christian, Jr. put in the hours to restore the car to its former glory. When the transformation was complete, the Roadster was ready to compete for top honors at regional shows.
“He would just read and learn and ask questions,” Jamion Christian said. “He was fearless in trying to find the information he needed to figure out how to do this thing.”
On Father’s Day, the GW men’s basketball head coach celebrates a man who set an example and enforced a standard that helped he and his brother Jarell discover their shared love for teaching the game and pursue it to the highest levels of the profession.
John’s passion is track and field: He was a national champion sprinter at Virginia State before embarking on a teaching and coaching career in his hometown of New Kent, Va. Four decades later, he is still a health and physical education teacher, driver’s ed instructor and head coach of the track and field team at Charles City High School.
Yet, the story of the Roadster might explain John’s influence on his sons as well as any example from the world of sports.
“I think that’s just the way that he’s attacked his life, and he encouraged us to do the same thing,” Jamion said. “It wasn’t about being talented. It was about not being afraid to work at something.”
John Christian was once one of the fastest men in the world. He was a two-time NCAA Division II 100-meter champion who headed to the 1980 Olympic trials with a sub 10-second personal-best in the event that made him a leading contender to earn a spot in Moscow before the U.S. boycotted the Games.
Growing up, Jamion learned the specifics of his father’s accomplished career from news clippings in a scrapbook and family friends.
What John talked about was the extra training that went into his rise from lightly-recruited prospect to a no-doubt member of his alma mater’s Athletics Hall of Fame.
Even well after his racing career finished, John would lean on one of his tried-and-true training methods, tying a tire around his waist for resistance and running sprints in their backyard.
“He just appreciates work,” Christian said. “I think by me watching that it became about working and just having a great passion.
“I don’t know if you can pass passion down genetically, but I felt like when I decided to jump into basketball and baseball, I had the same passion he had for track and field.”
The elder Christian brought the same approach to his career, whether that was leaving the house by 5:15 a.m. to give a driving lesson before school or stepping up to help with the small school’s athletic department as a football assistant, public address announcer or bus driver.
In 1995, the Charles City High made local headlines for winning the VHSL Class A track and field state title, despite having no home track on campus. The Panthers practiced relay handoffs in the parking lot, sprint starts in the gym and improvised jumping workouts without any sort of pit or equipment.
“He’s always done whatever Charles City High School needed him to do without fear, without complaining, not even worried about the hours that it takes,” Jamion said.
Flashing back to his upbringing in New Kent, it’s easy to understand Jamion’s enthusiasm for mentorship, as well as his focus on program culture.
In addition to his father’s background, his mother Joyce was a special education teacher before her retirement a few years ago. At the dinner table, the conversations focused on celebrating their students’ successes and talking through the challenges together.
The Christians have long made a great team with John’s strict standards and Joyce’s tender touch.
“They really are passionate about their students, and we felt that every single day,” Jamion said. “There was never a day that they came home and we felt like they did not love the job they had. Now they had tough days, but you could always feel their passion, feel their love.”
Early on, Jamion’s attention veered toward hoops. He dabbled in cross country as a means to stay in shape in the fall during high school, but he was more interested in forging his own athletic path.
His parents supported his dribbling in the house and voracious appetite for watching and studying the game.
(When he was shooting around as a youngster, it was his mother who encouraged him to track his free throw percentage as a way to gauge his daily progress. “She’s probably the one that got me started on all this data analytics stuff,” he said with a chuckle.)
For a few summers during Jamion’s middle school years, John even took on the role of AAU basketball coach.
Understandably, those practices were not easy for Jamion and his teammates.
“It was a lot of running in practice,” Jamion said. “I think as a coach you lean on the things that you know best, and he knows conditioning and he knows running.”
It also gave John a reason to dig deeper into the game that both of his sons would eventually devote their lives to coaching.
Jamion would become a Division I head coach at age 29 and put in seven seasons leading Mount St. Mary’s and Siena before arriving at GW in 2019, while Jarell took over leading the Capital City Go-Go of the G League at 32 in 2018 and is now an assistant with the Washington Wizards.
Today, John watches many of his sons’ games and pre-COVID made the trip to see them in action a few times each season. The veteran coach is ready to dispense advice – but only when asked.
A man of few words and endless action, John turned himself into a fine AAU hoops coach back in the day by talking to coaches that he trusted and watching with careful attention to detail.
Just like with the Roadster, he showed his sons that commitment and discipline can go a long way in the face of a challenge.
“My dad’s the type of person that anything he doesn’t know a lot about he really studies and works at it,” Jamion said. “He’s always had the belief that if you have a passion for something and you work at it, you can be great at it.”
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