Saturday, May 25, 2024

In the Cards: Jones finishes college, reflects on journey

By Collin Bolebruch

Myles Jones played his last game for Plattsburgh’s men’s basketball team Feb. 18. He’s 24 years old and is about to graduate with an English degree. Before the game started, the team held a ceremony for seniors. Jones stood in front of the crowd with his father Rick Jones, his stepmother Dionne Jones and his brother Roddy Jones. Two other seniors joined him: Sheriff Conteh and Erik Salo. Myles Jones isn’t like his colleagues. 

Salo played three seasons for the Cardinals, holding down the post and leading the team in rebounds in two of them. Conteh played for two years and has one of the most recognizable faces on campus. Jones hasn’t been on campus for a full academic year yet. He transferred from  Covenant College in Lookout Mountain, Georgia before the start of the fall semester. Plattsburgh is the fifth college he’s attended.

Jones grew up in a single-parent household with his mother, Dafrine Jones, in Alexandria, Virginia.  His uncle, Myron Brooks, introduced Myles Jones to the sport when Jones was five. One day, Brooks visited the household with a gift for him: a portable basketball hoop he bought from Walmart. From then on, Jones hasn’t put down the ball.

In sixth grade, Jones’ stepfather, Lynden Forbes, was deported to The Bahamas. He lived with his father in Gainesville, Virginia for the next two years due to financial issues in the family. 

Jones played on basketball teams through middle school and often played one-on-one with his brother. It wasn’t until he reached late middle school that he started to find his love for the game and get recognition for his ability.

“We played hundreds, maybe thousands of games,” Roddy Jones said. “One day, he beat me and I never played him again. At that point, I knew he was special.”

Before high school, Myles Jones was able to move back in with his mother and Forbes re-entered the United States. He attended Battlefield High School in Haymarket, Virginia using a family friend’s address. Forbes drove him from Alexandria to school every day, an almost hour-long drive.

Jones was selected for the varsity basketball team as a first-year at a school with almost 3,000 students. He didn’t play much that year, but earning playing time gave him a sense of motivation that he hadn’t previously had for the game. 

He received a participation letter at the end of the season, but not a jacket like other players. He described it as “humiliating,” and it fueled his upcoming season. He said that moment sparked his drive to be a better player. Roddy Jones described him as the hardest worker he had ever met.

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

Myles Jones realized there was a legitimate chance for him to play at a higher level after a successful sophomore season. He decided to transfer to a school that would give him a better chance at being recognized by a college program— Blue Ridge School in St. George, Virginia.

Blue Ridge is a private, all-boys boarding school with a reputation for its boys’ basketball program. The school is consistently ranked highly across Virginia teams. It was No. 4 the year before Jones arrived. There, Jones learned under Head Coach Cade Lemcke.

Dionne Jones said her stepson was so scared, he cried when he got to Blue Ridge. She credited his teammates’ and school’s support for helping him adapt to the environment. Rick Jones said Lemcke was a leader of men.

Myles Jones played in just 10 games in his first year, sitting below future NCAA Division I and NBA players on the depth chart. Though he didn’t play much, Jones’ season was productive. Lemcke noticed Jones’ determination early on.

Jones credited his mother’s side of the family for his competitiveness. Dafrine Jones instilled a toughness in Myles Jones that made him want to do better. Outside of basketball, he also lettered in football and track and field.

During his high school career, Jones also played AAU basketball. He was coached by Chris Rhone in both 16u and 17u competition. Rhone said Jones “knew his role,” which led to team success.

“He’s a very loyal, very loyal person. Hard-nosed kid. Very determined,” Rhone said. “He’s just a great kid. Great personality, hard worker. I think he’s going to be successful in life.”

During Jones’ second season at Blue Ridge, his mother developed cancer. She was put into hospice care while he was at school. Jones remembered his brother being at her side as her condition worsened while he was still playing basketball.

Jones came home for Christmas break and returned to the team for a game Jan. 6, 2017. His father and brother drove five hours to the game and brought Jones back in a snowstorm. His mother died Jan. 7. Jones said it happened quickly for him.

“It’s tough to this day,” Jones said. “Every single monumental moment you have in life, and not even only with basketball, you go to a wedding and everybody’s dancing with their mom. The little things like that, I don’t have that. Like Senior Day, my dad’s out there, my stepmom’s out there, my brother’s out there, mom’s not there.”

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

Rick Jones and Lemcke coordinated to have the team visit Myles Jones at home. Myles Jones’ father said some colleagues from work would be visiting the house. The team bus pulled into the driveway, making a loud beeping noise, and Jones was still none the wiser. Rick Jones knew it meant a lot to his son.

“We just went to spend time with him in his home and just be able to not only take his mind off everything going on but also let him know that he has 12 brothers and coaching staff that were there for him,” Lemcke said. “We were thankful that we had the ability to do that.”

Jones returned to the team soon after. Blue Ridge finished the season 8-2 for an overall record of 30-3. Jones and Blue Ridge won five straight games in the playoffs and beat Miller School of Albemarle in the state championship.

Dionne Jones and Myles Jones’ stepsister, Cayla Williams, said he focused on basketball to deal with his grief. Dionne Jones believed the team environment helped him. Williams said basketball became a “coping mechanism.”

Headed into his final season, Myles Jones was named a team captain. Lemcke put trust into Jones on account of his immense leadership skills.

“Whatever it was, he was always ready to compete and always wanted to beat the other person,” Lemcke said. “He excelled in that environment and really helped us win.”

Jones’ senior season of 11 points per game, efficient shooting and tough defense earned him multiple opportunities at the collegiate level. His 6’2” frame got him Division I visits. In his high school years, he faced elite talent in future NBA All-Stars Anthony Edwards and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Olympic gold medalist Keldon Johnson.

“He would always come in and guard the best player on the other team and could hit open shots, and you just knew he was going to fight,” Lemcke said. “He would never be satisfied, was always fighting, always striving to get more, to do more or prove this or prove that.”

He eventually decided to attend Tusculum University, a Division II basketball program in Tennessee, on a full-ride scholarship. He majored in business and minored in journalism. Rick Jones remembered his son breaking down because his mother wasn’t there to see him sign his letter of intent.

Jayne Smith / Cardinal Points

Tusculum Head Coach J.T. Burton said Jones personified leadership and resilience.

“Some of us coaches get a little hard because all we think about is winning and losing,” Burton said. “One thing he taught me is to understand what kids are going through and help them get through it.”

Burton related his experience with Jones back to his own, as he lost his father at a young age.

Jones played 20 games in his first season at Tusculum, averaging 1.4 points per game. Though he was living his dream of playing college basketball, Jones felt out of place. The passing of his mother was still looming over his head.

“I don’t know if, mentally, he was ready for everything that was going to come at him,” Rick Jones said. “[Tusculum] kind of lost him. It just was not going to work.”

After a difficult year at Tusculum, Myles Jones felt burned out from basketball. He had difficulty adjusting to the college lifestyle, didn’t get time to grieve his mother’s death and couldn’t get behind Burton’s coaching style. Jones made a vow to be done with basketball.

After departing from the team, Jones transferred to Virginia Commonwealth University. At VCU, he watched former colleagues play, knowing he still had gas in the tank. He watched other people play and played recreationally, but never for the team. Roddy Jones said one of the best things Myles Jones could have done was to just be a “regular student.”

“It allowed him to see through a different lens, watching people play,” Rick Jones said. “It gave him the ability to really see how much he loved it. He couldn’t say, ‘I hate it,’ anymore. He found out what he really feels. He loves it.”

Myles Jones was invited to a game of pickup with former Blue Ridge teammates Darius McGhee and Chris Rogers. He played, even beating them in some games. The matchups were filmed.

The videos were distributed to basketball schools and Jones accepted a scholarship offer from Limestone University in Gaffney, South Carolina. At his new school, he studied information systems security. Jones beat his burnout by leaning into his talent. 

It was hard for him to accept he wasn’t playing, knowing he could have a role on a team. Rick Jones described Myles Jones as having a “chip on his shoulder,” knowing his son hasn’t gotten what he thinks he deserves.

Despite having a basketball scholarship, Jones didn’t play a single game for Limestone. He contracted COVID-19 before the season started and he believed the NCAA failed to clear his eligibility waiver after transferring schools.

Limestone played Tusculum that year, as both teams play in the South Atlantic Conference’s Mountain Division. At the game, a former Tusculum teammate told Jones he overheard a Limestone coach say Jones’ waiver was never submitted to the NCAA by the school.

Jones, who anticipated playing at Limestone, was disappointed by the news. He still wanted to play. Before the next season, Jones transferred to his fourth college, Covenant College, to play basketball and study computer science. Covenant is a Division III school and he had only Division II experience.

At Covenant, Jones had his most success as a college player so far. He started 10 of 25 games played and averaged 7.9 points per game and shot 36 percent from the three point line. The team finished with an 18-7 record including a 10-2 record in conference play. The team lost in the USA South Championship.

Above all else, Jones valued graduating on time. He wasn’t able to at Limestone, so he began his search for his fifth and final college. When Jones’ name entered the transfer portal, Plattsburgh men’s basketball’s Head Coach Mike Blaine took notice.

Blaine was previously employed at four different colleges in the DMV area. He took note of Jones when he played at Blue Ridge and is a good friend of Lemcke. Blaine was interested in bringing Jones to Plattsburgh, so he reached out to Jones’ former coach. In return, he got a “glowing recommendation.”

Jones has family ties to Syracuse and SUNY Plattsburgh offered him the chance to get a degree. He couldn’t pass on the opportunity, telling his girlfriend Hannah Browne he wanted to leave an impact on the program he joined.

The year before Jones arrived, the program had an all-time low season, finishing with a 2-23 overall record. Blaine attributed the lack of success to an absence of experience in the roster, claiming not many players on the 2021-22 roster had collegiate experience. He wanted someone who was “veteran savvy.” Jones fit the bill.

“He tried to be very, very coachable,” Blaine said. “He really tried to buy into what we were accomplishing.”

Jones worked hard over the summer to become a better player. Roddy Jones said Myles Jones counted every shot he took over the summer before the 2022-23 season and it added up to be more than 50,000.

Jones joined his fifth new roster in six years. Despite being a senior, he was the new guy on the team. Jones is supposed to be a leader of a locker room full of strangers. Teammate Sheriff Conteh said Jones didn’t speak up much at first.

It didn’t take long for Jones to adjust. Salo remembered Jones being excited to join the team. Jones carried experience with him and was ready to be a team player. His ability to accept criticism and adjust to a new environment made the transition easier.

“As a team, as we went through adversity, we sat down with each other and picked each other’s brains. He was very vocal,” Conteh said. “Him giving his input helped us a lot as a team.”

Jones soon became one of the regular vets. Blaine said Jones tried to help the younger players see the bigger picture. Jones’ hard work and dedication to the team’s ultimate goal of winning rubbed off on his underclassmen. He took pride in taking a back seat in games to have a better chance of winning, saying he had never done things like take five shots in a game or take charges before.

“I’m pretty sure half the team could say that Myles has always been a mentor. He’s always been a leader, stopping fights,” teammate Jalin Pitts said. “He’s been like a brother to me all the time. Every time I messed up, I had a terrible practice, he’s always been able to pick me up.”

Pitts said Jones is good at stepping up and managing personalities. Jones is there to encourage players and keep them focused on practice. Pitts believed Jones’ leadership eventually translated to team success.

A few weeks into the season, Browne’s brother was shot during a robbery in Virginia. He survived, and Browne said getting the phone call from her mother was something out of a movie. Browne texted Jones, who was at practice at the time.

Jones was there for Browne in the weeks coming, dedicating sleepless nights to be on the phone with her and became her shoulder to cry on. She said he “handled it perfectly.”

“He was just the most supportive and was genuinely concerned. I feel like because I was hurting, he took that hurt onto himself,” Browne said. “He felt like he was carrying a burden with me.”

Roddy and Dionne Jones both described Myles Jones as a caring, giving person. Dionne Jones said despite his “Kobe” side of toughness, he has a soft side and gives from his heart.

Jones finished the season with an average of 8.8 points per game and as one of the team’s top shooters and defenders. He was assigned to guard top conference opponents, like Brockport’s Mekhi Beckett and Cortland’s Austin Grunder. The team was eliminated from the playoffs in the final week of regular season play with a 10-15 record, a far cry from last season’s finish.

“I think the challenge of this year was different than the past few years. I’ve been blessed to be on two really, really good teams. This year, coming into a team that had won two games the past year, I didn’t really know what to expect,” Jones said. He minimized his role in games to give the team a better chance at winning games. “All those things, I think, led to a better and more successful year. I hope it rubs off and they continue to keep doing the same things next year.”

Jones tied his career high of 24 points in his last game. He’s now less than three months away from graduating.

“It’s a blessing to be able to be there for him right now. I’m the first person in my family to graduate college and he saw me graduate,” Roddy Jones said. “I feel able to give him knowledge, strength and to keep telling him, ‘Get through it, get through it, get through it.’”

Rick Jones said if it was up to him, he’d have gone to one school but the most important thing for him is that his son graduates. He didn’t get the chance to get a degree himself and now he’s going to see his son finally walk across the stage in May.

Jones mentioned multiple paths for his future. He’s working to get his certification to work in information technology. He wants to use his English degree to become a teacher so he can become a basketball coach easier. Jones could also seek a roster spot in a league overseas, specifically in Finland. No matter where he goes or what he does, Browne said she believes basketball is a big part of his future.

“I think a lot about a story is perspective. One could say my story is sad,” Jones said. “But I think my story is definitely positive.”

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