Fans thought Lamont “MoMo” Jones had it all at Arizona: An Elite Eight under his belt, a coach in Sean Miller who could teach Jones everything about being the floor general and a starting point guard spot at the school dubbed Point Guard U. But that was only Jones on his hardwood surface.
So a month ago when Jones suddenly transferred to Iona, a small MAAC school in New Rochelle, N.Y., it raised the obvious question: Why leave the success?
“Just to be close to family,” Jones said last Saturday in Harlem, where he watched his younger cousin play basketball. “Grandmother is sick, my sister is growing up, my mother’s a single parent. They’ve been with me since forever so, you know, if these are my last years in college, my grandmother’s last years … I just want her to be able to watch me play and be able to be at games, and me be able to get to her if she’s in a situation of need.”
From afar, it might have appeared that Jones was skipping town because playing time would be limited with high-profile recruit Josiah Turner and rising sophomore Jordin Mayes as two other capable point guards on the Arizona roster. It wasn’t that, Jones says. After all, Jones had hosted Turner on a recruiting visit in Tucson before his commitment, and it was Jones who mentored Mayes through a back-up role this past year.
The decision was all about being close to family. For Jones, home is the same place where his father was killed just outside his apartment, a shocking and defining point in his life. With the memory in mind, he doesn’t want to face the regret of not being there if something were to happen to his grandmother, who is in a battle with Hepatitis C. Basketball was hardly on his mind when choosing another school.
“I came into this world with family, not basketball,” Jones says, “and when I leave this world I’m going to leave with family and not basketball.”
In the official announcement that came on May 16, Jones didn’t know where he was headed to, only that it need to be near Harlem. After it went public, he says offers came from schools in the Big East, ACC and even Pac-10 schools who thought he was simply looking for more playing time.
But Jones didn’t sniff the big-time programs. Most were too far away. He looked seriously at Hofstra, UMass, St. John’s and Seton Hall before he chose the Gaels, who were a conference finals win away from the NCAA Tournament last season and are located a short drive from the city.
But to leave a program returning to its old place among the elite? To give up the big stage where NBA scouts and general managers would see him play on a regular basis?
“Do I stay to fulfill a dream that is only going to last for some years, or do I go back to where I came from and the family that helped me get to me where I am?” Jones asks. “At the end of the day, the ball will stop bouncing.
“If I’m going to be a pro,” Jones says, “I’m going to be a pro wherever I go.”
Now comes the hard part. Jones is spending his summer keeping off the concrete courts and doing pool workouts to recover from a midseason knee injury that he played through during Arizona’s Elite Eight run. Because of NCAA transfer rules, he could be forced to sit out a year unless he receives a waiver should the NCAA decide his transfer is due to the extenuating circumstances of his grandmother’s illness. Jones says he has a 90 percent chance of playing next season, though that’s his own guess.
“If they’re going to let me play, they’re going to let me play,” Jones says. “Right now I’m just hoping, God willing, that I do get the waiver. I don’t feel like I should be penalized for making an unselfish decision to come home to be with my family in this time of need.
“I think that any man who’s the man of the house would do the same thing.”
Follow Kevin on Twitter at @offensivelyfoul.
Follow Dime on Twitter at @DimeMag.
Become a fan of Dime Magazine on Facebook HERE.