- William Makepeace Thackeray
HAMDEN, Conn. - Velton Jones came out with the rest of the Robert Morris team for warm-ups, but not in the same garb as the rest of the squad. While his teammates went through the layup lines and jump shots, Jones - dressed in a sweatshirt and sweatpants - stayed near half-court, dribbling a ball and joking with teammates and coaches.
It wasn't a huge surprise that Jones was sitting out Thursday's game with Quinnipiac. Just minutes into a game that I saw in Brooklyn two weeks ago
, Jones injured his right shoulder and didn't return. Not that he didn't try. Since then, he's been in and out of the lineup
, and the consensus was that the Colonials might rest Jones for a week to try to get him right.
But I noticed Jones left the floor before his teammates, and as Robert Morris came back for the final few minutes before tip-off, sure enough Jones had gone into the nearest phone
booth (where would Superman change these days anyway?) and come out with his uniform on.
Gamesmanship? Possibly. But any concern that Jones was faking the injury were quickly put to rest, unless he will soon rival Daniel Day-Lewis in acting ability upon graduation in May. Jones - wearing long sleeves - began the contest on the bench, with a towel on his injured right shoulder. When he got into the game, he dribbled sparingly with his right hand, which he could barely lift to shoot. At one point, he stripped Kendrick Ray of the ball, but couldn't really complete the steal because he didn't want to put his right hand, instead stabbing at it with his left while basically keeping the right tied behind his back.
Bravery has been valued in human societies and literature pretty much since the opening act. Overcoming pain and adversity, or just flat out ignoring it, has been one of the biggest ways to get undying admiration from a wide variety of people from Odysseus on down.
But, just playing devil's advocate here, at some point in a college
basketball game, doesn't bravery have to yield to prudence? Don't the Colonials need to have Jones healthy for the biggest games of their season, which are still a couple of weeks away?
If you've never suffered a shoulder injury, consider yourself lucky, it's one of the most painful parts of the body to be afflicted, especially for a sport like basketball, which obviously involves lifting and moving your arms.
Jones, an all-NEC selection last season and the only thing that will likely stop him from doing so this season is his shoulder, said he wanted to play
, apparently coach Andy Toole and Robert Morris were told he probably couldn't do too much more damage to it by playing if he could handle the pain, and so here he was at TD Bank Center, the same floor where he recorded four steals three years ago as the Colonials won the NEC championship over Quinnipiac, and went on to almost upset Villanova in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
Early on, it didn't look like the Colonials would need much from Jones. Russell Johnson started hot and Robert Morris led 20-8 just eight minutes in, taking advantage of a slow start from the Bobcats, who hadn't played in a week thanks to the blizzard. Hamden absorbed 40 inches of snow, and travel around TD Bank Center was still a bit treacherous. The 40 inches in a 24-hour period is the most ever in the state of Connecticut.
Quinnipiac is also home to the No. 1 hockey team in the country, which plays in the same complex. Alas, that was of no help to the basketball team on this night.
But Quinnipiac, winners of four of five, after a dreadful first half of the season, some of the which was documented here, has talent and the most physically imposing frontline in the NEC, and it's not real close. Jones tried his best to stop the momentum from turning by taking a bigger role in the game, but by halftime, Quinnipiac has a 30-29 lead.
(In a strange quirk, Robert Morris has not lost a game it led at halftime this season, and they haven't won a game it trailed at the half(.)
Six minutes into the second half, Jones crumpled to the floor in pain. Everyone cringed, except it turned out this injury was not to the shoulder, but to the groin.
He missed 1 minute, 16 seconds.
Despite Quinnipiac just owning the game inside, Robert Morris - mostly on the strength of turnovers - was able to grab a 51-46 lead with eight minutes left on superhoops by Anthony Myers-Pate and Coron Williams. The Colonials led 58-56 with 2:10 left when Jones, evidently forgetting about his shoulder momentarily, drove hard to the basket. His shot was blocked, and he landed in amongst the Quinnipiac cheerleaders, right on his shoulder.
He stayed down for a minute before moving slowly to the bench, his right arm hanging limply at his side.
Jones sat out for 40 seconds.
And some of that time he was at the scorer's table. He turned to the bench and screamed when Evan Conti - the man he was guarding - drove the lane to tie the game at 58 and was fouled. Conti missed the ensuing free throw, but Ike Azotam got the rebound and was fouled himself, hitting two to give Quinnipiac a 60-58 lead.
Jones would take two more shots, both runners, in the final minute, but he would miss both, and Quinnipiac astoundingly has found its way back into the NEC race after beating Robert Morris 63-61.
It was an eye-popping, although becoming typical for Quinnipiac, boxscore as it survived 23 turnovers by outrebounding Robert Morris 45-25, including 29-12 in the second half (Quinnipiac also had 13 of its 19 offensive rebounds after halftime). Other than on the defensive end, the Bobcats have also shown dramatic improvement at the free throw line, where their 17-for-24 was much better than the Colonials' hideous 5-for-13.
Jones made his way through the postgame handshake line, last in line, gingerly lifting his right arm - never above his waist - as everyone made sure to tell him how much guts he had to play. On the way home on the postgame radio show, Quinnipiac assistant Eric Eaton talked about how they knew Jones couldn't go to his right and yet he was able to almost beat them anyway, making sure to mention how much courage he had, and has had for the last four seasons.
I don't know anyone that will argue with Eaton, certainly not me. Despite going just 3-for-13 from the field and grabbing no rebounds, Jones' (he did have six assists and only two turnovers) performance will likely be one of the more memorable I'll see all season.
Yet as I left the parking lot and into the Hamden night, the dilemma was left unsolved. What if Velton Jones sat out the two games this week and then was healthy the rest of the season, including in the NEC Tournament?
Then I thought what I would want to do if I were a fifth-year senior like Velton Jones and my college basketball career was quickly coming to a close, the times he can put on the uniform dwindling into single digits.
Damn right I'd want to play.