Thursday, January 13, 2000 - The Michigan Daily - 9A
Leon Jones lived in four cities in four years. He's struggled at times, but he's always overcome
the challenges thrown at him. His life has been one big @..
By Chris Duprey
Daily Sports Editor
The Starter jacket felt nice in the
cool California breeze. Leon
Jones had wanted it for a long
time, and his father was more than
happy to oblige his son, the national-
ly-ranked basketball star who had
4rked hard enough in high school to
tarn a 3.0 average.
Leon didn't have much - times
were tough for most in his neighbor-
hood - but he did have those God-
given basketball skills, he did have
that unflappable character, and he did
have that jacket. And at the time, that
was more than enough in life.
It was a great day to have a great
acket, because Leon had no ride
me from school and was taking the
bus home. It was starting to get dark,
and the nighttime coolness that
graces Inglewood and the rest of
southern California had begun to set
in for the evening.
Maybe the bus was a little late that
day. Maybe it hit a few red lights. But
that bus didn't come fast enough for
A figure emerged from the dark-
ss and revealed a gun to Leon,
ldering him to remove his beloved
jacket, that jacket he earned for all
the success he was having.
"Stuff like that happens all the
time," he said.
He was angry instead of afraid.
Angry that a guy would rob someone
like him who couldn't afford it.
So with his life in his hands, he
rolled the dice. He stalled for time.
#on engaged the gun-toter in as
much conversation as the criminal
would allow, hoping desperately that
someone, anyone would make their
way past the scene.
But no police came by - maybe a
blessing in disguise for Leon, who
was told by the gunman that he would
be shot if the cops arrived - so with
no other tactics to resort to, he sur-
rendered his jacket, and he surren-
red his fight.
Just like he had planned, Leon then
took the bus home, fiery mad and a
little bit colder.
Three time zones and a world away,
Fatima Miles fumed. She was eight
years older than Leon, and eight years
wiser. Southern California might be
all right for normal kids, but not her
Leon, with all his basketball talent
d how much good he could do the
'rld, not to mention the fact that he
was her baby brother.
"I remember sometimes going to
pick him up from school, and I would
see crowds of people all gathered
together outside, and I would be so
nervous, because I was thinking,
'Lord, I hope that something didn't
happen,"' Fatima said. "So when I
heard about it (the holdup), I was so
enraged. I always took care of my
o Fatima made it her business to
get Leon out of the neighborhood,
pushing hard to convince Leon's
father, Leon Sr., and Leon himself to
pack up his stuff, give up his life as he
knew it, and move across the country.
Originally, "I didn't want to come,
because I was doing real well in bas-
ketball. I had everything going for
me." Leon said. But as he considered
s options, he thought, "Maybe it's
tine for a change of pace."
It was settled. The plane ticket was
purchased. The luggage was checked.
Leon was leaving California for
good. Destination: Battle Creek,
Michigan. Home of Kellogg's Frosted
Flakes. And now, the Home of Leon
Fatima and her husband were rais-
ing their three daughters in a two-
bedroom house, and didn't really
have room for
Leon. But it was
imperative to keep'
him safe, so they
squeezed and they
he was family,
Central is no
slouch when it
comes to basket-
ball, but it often
doesn't get the
deserves from the
media and coaches
because it hides out
in western part of
the state of
from the traditional
have fun and win a championship."
Problem is, no one on the team
believed him. They saw a hotshot
junior from the streets of California
who wanted to take over. "The kid is
probably a gang-banger," they said.
"What's he doing in our town? Why
can't he go somewhere else?"
The Battle Creek Central varsity
was composed of five seniors who
had played together since their fresh-
man year. And, as is tradition, you
labor away on the freshman team, you
sweat it out on the junior varsity for a
year, maybe two, because, whatever
the price, whatever the cost, there will
come the day when you are
a senior, when you get to
wear that silky uniform
:end have your name
position would he take?" they all
wondered. "Is he a two-guard or a
With their basketball future on the
line, they did what they thought best
- they denied Leon, a 6-foot-4
guard, the ball.
If he was open, they looked some-
where else. If he was lucky enough to
get the ball and he dumped it down
low in the post, or reversed the ball to
another guard, hehad little hope of
getting it back.
"If he can't score points, he can't
impress anyone," the starters thought.
"And if he can't impress anyone, he
can't take my spot."
Leon's troubles with the team con-
tinued off the court. It was a given
that Leon wasn't included in any team
activities off the court. But things got
worse when the Michigan media
learned about the smooth shooter
"I was in some magazines - they'd
throw the magazine away," Leon said.
"I'd be in the newspaper - they'd
ball up the newspaper and throw it
After his junior year, Leon had
another demon to fight - the ACT,
the last obstacle before he could
make his college plans, say goodbye
to Battle Creek and everyone who had
mistreated him there.
Academically, things never came
easy for Leon, but he recognized his
shortcomings and worked at
them, just like he did every-
thing else. The 3.0
average he carried
back in California
1oiaiiy was a badge of
honor, proof that
good things come
to those who work.
Every struggle he went through in
Battle Creek - the team, being the
"new kid," the culture, the snow, the
isolation - the negative effect of all
those intangibles could be quantified
by one number.
His ACT score.
Leon took the test and failed to get
an 18, the qualifying score he needed
Leon Jones went through numerous challenges just to earn the privilege of taking a
shot in a Michigan uniform.
Central owned the
west side, an impres-
sive tradition, even if
its kingdom was a little
bit smaller than the
ones out east. And as far
as the team was con-
cerned, they were doing
fine before Leon Jones. His
addition would be an unwel-
come one to a team that had
won 21 games the year before he
"It wasn't like he was going
to come in and save the
program," said Chuck !
Turner, who coached Leon
But Leon never asked to save
program. He never asked to be
hero. He just "wanted to come
to play immediately in college. The
former member of Fremont High
School's accelerated learning pro-
gram took the test again, and again,
he did not pass.
That's what the transition to Battle
Creek took out of Leon Jones - the
ability to pass a standardized test that,
had he taken it back in California, in
the friendly environment of his home-
town, where classmates welcomed
him instead of dragging him down, he
could've passed right away.
A year later, after Leon had
enrolled at Winchendon Prep School
in Massachusetts, he passed the test
on his first try. He called Fatima that
night to tell her the news.
He choked back the tears.
One of the toughest fights of his life.
One of his most gratifying victories.
ON THE MOVE
It was Steve Fisher who had con-
tacted Leon about playing for
Michigan, but it was Brian Ellerbe
who was the man in charge of the
announced as a starter.
That is what Battle Creek basket-
ball players live for. And then comes
this ringer from across the country,
trying to bust things up. "Whose
Wolverines when Leon walked into
Crisler Arena for the first time in the
fall of 1998.
Just like in Battle Creek, it wasn't
easy for Leon to get in the flow. He
shot just 29 percent from the field his
freshman season, and Michigan fans-
began to wonder, perhaps, if he waa
Just one more of Fisher's mistakes.
True to form, Leon just needed
some time to turn things around. This
season, he's starting and averaging 10.
points a game. He's playing admirable
defense, and he's generating waves of
excitement among the Crisler fans
when he squares to shoot from outside.
Leon caused his biggest stir when he,
had a 23-point night against Towson
over holiday break, not missing a shot
or a free throw all evening.
One thing, though, Leon - why inF
the world do you wear number zero?
The 0 "stands for Opportunity. It
stands for Offense," he said.
It also stands for Obstacles.
's Leon so tough on the
t? At Winchendon Prep,
fents had to wear uniforms
there was a headmaster.
r a year on
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