BOZICH | Shocking and disturbing end to Chris Jones' Louisville career
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The scouting report on Chris Jones promised that his time at the University of Louisville was going to be difficult.
He cut more classes than he should have at Melrose High School in Memphis. Jones could rage at teammates whenever he believed they were not competing as relentlessly as Jones competed. People in Memphis still shake their heads at his occasional antics.
Jones left Orange Mound, the most troubled neighborhood in Memphis, to play his senior season at a military school in North Carolina. He needed the structure. Check that. Jones needed to show that he could accept the structure.
Even that season of additional discipline did not put his credentials in line for major-college basketball. Jones needed another two-year stop at a junior college in the Florida panhandle. Add it up and the message to interested recruiters was clear:
Proceed with caution. Prepare for tumultuous times.
Some programs passed. Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville basketball program took the chance and the challenge, presenting Jones with the opportunity of a lifetime, a starting position with a program that had just won the 2013 NCAA title.
If Jones needed a reminder about the differences between the grim world he left behind and the wonderful world he entered, the message was delivered about one year ago:
Jones' step-brother was shot and killed in Memphis. He was a starting guard on a team that advanced to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Tournament.
“If you saw where he came from you'd be amazed he made it this far,” one of Jones' former coaches said.
Could Jones unload a string of expletives on teammates? You bet. Did Jones' sometimes annoy Pitino by talking back to the coach? Their verbal sparring matches near the bench were must-see entertainment. Had Pitino been warned about the player's temper? Yes, Pitino admitted that he had.
But there wasn't anything in his background that would make U of L coaches suspect that Jones was a risk to commit the acts that he was accused of committing in Courtroom 203 at the Hall of Justice Thursday morning.
“I think everybody is just in shock,” Pitino said. “We would never see any of this coming.”
Two counts of rape.
Two counts of sodomy.
“I'm dismayed,” Pitino said. “I'm extremely sad.”
I'm not here to defend Chris Jones. His attorneys, led by Scott C. Cox, have already started that task. It's their job.
“He has been falsely accused and he is going to be found innocent,” Cox said outside the courtroom Thursday morning. The prosecution is committed proving the other side, the side that would put Jones in prison. It's fair to wonder if Jones is still enjoying the benefits of being a former U of L basketball player when you look at the power of his legal team.
I am here to remind you to let the story breathe and make its way through the judicial system. Rape is a serious crime – and serious accusation.
In a world of instant analysis, proceed with care. Remember the Duke lacrosse case. And the charges against Kobe Bryant. And the allegations against former Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston. Tons of publicity, no convictions in that group.
If Jones is guilty, he'll pay a serious price – as he should.
Until that determination is made, today Jones is guilty of throwing away the opportunity of a lifetime, an opportunity that Pitino gave him. That opportunity was considerably more than basketball, where Jones has been a marginal professional prospect.
Jones' opportunity was to parlay his two seasons in the program into a career and a lifetime of good will in this community, a community that invests in former U of L players.
The threatening text message that Jones allegedly sent to a former girlfriend last week led to his one-game suspension and other restrictions on the player. It wasn't the behavior the program saw from Russ Smith, Peyton Siva, Larry O'Bannon and so many players who preceded Jones.
Pitino gave Jones another chance. Didn't have to. You can second guess that, bringing back Jones one game after that incident. But last Saturday, after the Miami game, the last time that Jones spoke to the media as a member of the University of Louisville basketball team, he talked like a guy who was appreciative of that chance.
He said he was sorry for getting himself suspended. Sorry for leaving his teammates one player down against Syracuse. Sorry for the behavior that inspired Pitino to call him a “knucklehead, a complete knucklehead,” after that game.
Sorry, sorry, sorry.
Sorry, but by the end of the day, Jones' apologies became impossible to accept.
He disregarded the unusual curfew restrictions Pitino had imposed – be in your room in Minardi Hall by 9 p.m. No visitors. By Sunday he was abruptly and mysteriously dismissed from the team.
By Thursday the mystery ended. Jones was no longer dealing with curfew issues. He was dealing with home incarceration imposed by Judge Sheila Collins as well as legal charges that have turned many lives and the University of Louisville basketball program upside down.
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