Life wasn’t right. As a 12-year-old, Paul Jones was angry.
It just wasn’t fair, having to move from his father and group of friends in Philadelphia. Jones moved to Louisa with his mother and stepfather in 1989, and upon arriving, those two were about the only people Jones knew.
He went to local gyms and playgrounds as a gangly, six-footer, who, by his own admission, struggled to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
That’s where Jones met guys like Robert Shelton and Andre Quarles, players who would become his teammates during Louisa’s magical run to the state championship in 1994.
They became his family. The sport became his life.
“Basketball became an outlet for me,” Jones said over a recent phone interview. “I was a very frustrated and angry person, because we moved and I was just going through some personal things in my life off the court. I was an angry individual.”
Jones hadn’t even picked up the sport of basketball until he arrived in Louisa. And even as he ran down the court with Shelton, Quarles and many others, he still couldn’t help fight the feeling of inadequacy. Jones hit a growth spurt in his freshman year, going from 6’2 to 6’6 in a year, but his coordination seemed just a step behind.
Jones wasn’t a fantastic shooter, and he knew that
Louisa’s varsity head basketball coach Fitzgerald Barnes knew that too.
So when Barnes called Jones up to play for the varsity team full-time during Jones’ sophomore year, he gave his gangly center one job, a task that wouldn’t require much finesse, just power and determination.
And yes, anger.
“Coach Barnes is very honest with his players, and he was very honest with me,” Jones said. “He told me if I wanted to play, I had to clean up the boards. That was my role. That was what I had to do. I did that to the best of my abilities.”
So when Jones stepped onto the court, mentally, he became a Dennis Rodman or a Charles Barkley. If he didn’t, Jones would have Quarles, the team’s point guard and floor general, in his ear.
“If I wasn’t going hard, he’d say something like, ‘That guys going to dunk on you.’” Jones said. “I would just get fired up.”
As a junior during Louisa’s 1994 run, was still in angry in practices and games, but longed for friendship and camaraderie off the hardwood. He still is wary to talk about life at home.
But make no mistake; he’ll talk about his family.
“I was going through some things when I came to Louisa, and the team became my family,” Jones said. “I stayed with coach Barnes a lot. Some days, I didn’t want to go home. Their families never questioned it.”
To read the entire story, see the April 3 edition of The Central Virginian.