Sitting on many college basketball coaching staffs is the “lifer.” The game grabbed hold of them as a child, and it never let go. You could say first-year Sarah Lawrence College assistant Jason Jaramillo is one such person.

The Southern California native grew up loving both of Los Angeles’ NBA teams. He loved the game, learned to love it again and found a calling as a coach who loves to teach.

“It’s helped me get through tough times. It’s almost my rock,” he said. “The idea of using the game to help others achieve their dreams and teach life lessons is something I’m definitely interested in and it's the foundation of my coaching.”

One of those life lessons, according to Jaramillo, is openness. To him such is essential, especially as a coach who also happens to be gay.

“As coaches you have the opportunity to impact their life,” he said with enthusiasm. “If they felt they didn’t knew who I was and I tried to give them advice I think that would be difficult. If you are an open book and they feel comfortable around you, in a sense, they give me the best of themselves because I am giving them the best of me.”

Before coaching, Jason Jaramillo fell in love with the game as player and later commissioner of the Lambda League in Los Angeles, California

1st Quarter: Coming out

Jason Jaramillo grew up in San Pedro, Calif., coming of age in the mid-1990s as LGBTQ acceptance was still in its infancy. “It was a smaller town and there weren’t many LGBTQ mentors and no safe space signs back then,” he noted.

As a teenager as he wrestled and struggled with orientation, he stayed around the game he loved, but after graduation put the game away as he made the next move forward.

“I was attending a fashion school at the time,” he said. “I was looking to study marketing, so I put sports away for while.”

When he saw such studies weren’t for him, he transferred to Manhattan College, a conference rival of Sarah Lawrence where he coaches now. Manhattan would be where he first came out to himself, as well as where he’d graduate.

“That’s where I learned the importance of mental health,” he noted. “Being able to discuss that I’m really battling with trying to navigate my sexuality and talk with a professional about it really helped me.”

Later that freshman year, Jaramillo came out to his parents and friends back in California. Their response was largely positive. “I grew up small town, Catholic family, but my parents said, ‘We still love you and nothing’s changed.’”

Along the way, he also picked up a basketball again and never put it down all the way to graduation in 2004 where he thought he would have to let it go again. “I had just really found the game again,” he thought. “I was wondering, ‘What was I going to do?’”

He moved back to Los Angeles after graduation and amid the daily grind, he found something to play for. He began playing in L.A.’s Lambda Basketball League. For him, it was a place to celebrate two keys parts of who he was.

“Outside of my friends and family, my closest relationships have come from that league,” Jaramillo said.

The league became his place to play and he was a part of many of the league’s travel squads. He also grew as an organizer and leader. In 2008, he was named to the league’s board. In 2010 was chosen league President when one of league’s founders retired.

He also did some coaching and someone noted that he had knack for it.

“I had coached some middle school kids and one of my friends told me that I seemed pretty good at it,” Jaramillo said. “I thought about, but I never acted on it. So, one day I went out to check out practice as a college were my friend’s dad coached and I was hooked.”

2nd Quarter: Acting On it

Coach Jaramillo on the bench at The Chadwick School in 2015

In 2013, Jaramillo was on the bench as an assistant at a local junior college, Los Angeles Harbor College. From 2014-2016 he was assistant at the Chadwick School on the high school level. At both stops he had played a part and building up two programs to a level of success. He was building his dreams for his profession and his life, happily married to a husband working in the technology industry.

The road toward coaching college basketball, was boosted by the athletic director at Chadwick who suggested attending a college coaching convention, and a friend and mentor who was at that level.

Julie Shaw was the head coach at La Verne College at the time and when she was attending the Lambda League open gyms to play ball,” he remembered. “I asked her how I can best navigate my way to coaching at the collegiate level, and she said to look at attending the WBCA Convention at the Women’s Final Four.”

Jaramillo took that advice and attended the convention and his eyes were opened to what it took, and the opportunity he never thought possible. “I was also searching for that way to become a better coach and when you are sitting in this panel and are able to grab this amazing and talented head coaches and tap into that knowledge.”

He also had to opportunity to attend an LGBT coaches mixer during the convention, and became another step into a large room. “In that room you were able to network and meet coaches and I made plans and met other people who also bring their friends and among the people I met was Bradley Alexander who said, ‘If you ever wanted to move out to New York to coach, just let me know.’”

At the time, Alexander has just launched newly formed women’s basketball program at Sarah Lawrence College. That was 2015. “That was the seed that he planted,” Jaramillo said with a grin. “I told him, If I move to New York, you’ll be the first person I call.”

In July 2016, Jaramillo was still chasing the dream as an assistant at Santa Ana College. In three years, he developed five all conference players, a junior college All-American and a conference MVP. In 2019, the seed planted at that coaches convention sprouted. Jaramillo’s husband took new job, in New York.

Bradley Alexander got that phone call. Jason Jaramillo ended up on an NCAA sideline.

3rd Quarter: A Role Model

Even with finally getting to coach at the four-year college, Coach Jason Jaramillo still has that gnawing doubt as an out gay college coach.

“I was wondering if I would have to stay in a small place to succeed?” he pondered.

Then he happened to check out an Outsports article on Curt Miller, the head coach of the WNBA’s Connecticut Sun. In 2015, Miller came out publicly on our website.

Connecticut Sun head coach Curt Miller, the first out gay male coach in professional sports, is an inspiration and mentor to Jaramillo

Reading his story prompted Jaramillo to reach out to Miller, a kindred spirit in the game and in life.

“He gave me really good advice,” coach recalled. “He said ‘Jason, work so hard that they don’t care about your sexuality’. I thought it made sense. I was going to give my team the best of me every day.”

That is what Jaramillo strived to do in this first season, even through a rough climb for the Sarah Lawrence Gryphons’ women. Injuries hampered the team all season and stretch a short-handed team thin, enroute to an 0-25 campaign.

Jaramillo describes himself as an intense competitor who wants use basketball to make an impact

But it did not leave this assistant coach discouraged. True to Coach Miller’s mantra, Jaramillo’s work ethic rubbed off on the team. “Our team is working hard every day to come to compete, and they are so tough,” he said. “They are playing 35 plus minutes. I never had to coach effort with this team. We’ve built a sisterhood and a culture that is great to build on.”

Much of his work centered around building the seeds to a winning future. He worked closely with a young backcourt led by Sophomore Camryn Davis, who was among the Skyline Conference leaders in scoring in 2019-2020. He also had a key coaching moment off the court that was an example of Jaramillo’s intangible belief about coaching being a form of community building.

During the annual Pride on the Court weekend in February, among those participating in the Outsports-sponsored athletes panel — alongside Pro Wrestling rising star Anthony Bowens, and former college football player Connor Mertens — was a Jaramillo project: A freshman softball player-turned reserve guard. A freshman who had made her first college basketball start the week before and had never addressed a crowd publicly before on any subject, let alone coming out as a young lesbian student-athlete.

Coach Jaramillo coached freshman guard Zoe Kim to a winning performance at last months LGBTQ sports panel sponsored by Outsports

“She was a bit nervous the night before,” Jaramillo said. “So we used softball analogies. I just told her to imagine you are in the outfield. If the ball is hit to you, you will react to the ball. It's the same thing with these questions.”

A nervous Kim confidently told her story and said later, “Coach Jason coached me through it before I got there, and it helped,” she stated.

“As a coach it made my really proud,” he said, “But I was so happy for her, and you could tell by the smile on her face that it was amazing.”

4th Quarter: Why Being Out Matters

For Assistant Coach Jason Jaramillo, the answer to why being out matters is clear.

“Normalcy matters,” he declared strongly. “Us sharing our stories and educating people. We all want to feel comfortable in our environment.”

“You spend so much time with the student athletes and the coaching staff that I couldn’t imagine not sharing myself or who I am,” he continued. “I can’t imagine being a closeted coach. I feel very fortunate that from the moment I walked on the court, they saw me as basketball coach. I was able to, instead of coming out, I was able to let people in, and it brought a level of authenticity to my student athletes. They know what they get.”