Jones, who scored 1,079 points and grabbed 583 rebounds during his two years as a letterman for the Bulldogs (1997-98 and 1998-99), may draw his first starting assignment as a professional Wednesday night after leaving Georgia early to enter the NBA Draft two years ago. And Jones' play could be crucial to Philadelphia's chances of advancing in the NBA Playoffs. The 76ers are in a colossal battle with Toronto to earn the right to advance to the playoffs semifinals.
Philadelphia has the best record in the league's Eastern Division, but lost three of four games to Toronto during the regular season. However, the 76ers are hanging tough with the Raptors--the best-of-seven series is tied at 2-2 heading into the next game at Toronto.
Philadelphia head coach Larry Brown will have to juggle his lineup for the second straight game. Brown started Aaron McKie, the NBA's sixth man of the year, at point guard in place of Eric Snow in Game Four. Now he has to replace George Lynch, who broke his left foot in the third quarter of Sunday's 84-79 Philadelphia victory.
Lynch, who started all but two games this season, had surgery Sunday, began rehabilitation Monday and will be out at least four weeks.
Jones is the most likely candidate to start in place of Lynch at small forward. But the starter could also be Rodney Buford. McKie is another possibility, but Brown wants to keep him at point guard. If Matt Geiger can play after missing the last three games with quadriceps tendinitis, Brown would have more options. However, Brown and Geiger said they are worried about Geiger sustaining long-term damage to his knee by playing.
"It's an issue of whether to start Jumaine or have him come off the bench as the sixth man," Brown said. "I don't want to put my players in spots where it won't be fair to them. But they've won a lot of games for us and I have a lot of confidence in their ability to get the job done."
Jones is elated with the possibility of getting to start.
"It means a lot to me for coach to give me an opportunity," Jones, who was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks before being traded to Philadelphia, said in an Associated Press report. "George was a big part of this team. It's not going to take one guy to replace him. Me, Rodney and other guys just have to step in. But we've done a good job stepping up all year when guys get hurt. I will give my best effort in every game and my teammates will too."
Jones is averaging 13.1 minutes and 3.5 points for the 76ers. Buford, signed as a free agent early in the season, has shot well in the playoffs despite playing just sixteen minutes. He is averaging 5.3 points and is 16-of-38 from 3-point range. But neither Jones nor Buford are known for their defensive prowess. And both will have try to limit the effectiveness of Toronto's scoring machine, Vince Carter, who had 25 points Sunday after pouring in 50 points in Game Three.
"It'll take a great team effort to stop him, but we can do it," Jones added.
Jones' career is now coming full-circle and he overcame some potentially major problems to get where he is today.
When he was thirteen years old, Jones saw a man shot to death in a housing project in Cocoa, Fla. following an argument over a video game. The dead man was a friend of Jones' sister. The shooting was his catalyst, the final straw in a mounting case to leave his troubled home before its troubles directly affected him.
"I lived in a bad community in Florida," Jones said. "There was a great deal of drug dealing going on and a lot of kids weren't doing good in school as far as their grades and attendance were concerned. Some kids I knew had drugs with them at school. It was not a very good situation, and the best way to get out of a bad situation is to get out of it as quickly as possible. I was easily influenced at that time and could have become part of a bad situation. Thankfully, I didn't."
Jones said he was fortunate because he had somewhere to go and someone to turn to.
"I had an aunt in Camilla, GA who I was very close to," he said. "I stayed with her every summer and I used to always ask my mother if could move to Camilla and live with my aunt."
A year after the shooting, Willie Mae Jones relented and allowed her only son to live with her sister, Rebecca Clayton, in the southwest Georgia town.
That move was a critical-and-positive turning point in Jones' life. Clayton sheltered seven children permanently and several more on a transient basis. When Jones lived there, Clayton was also caring for four of her other nephews.
Jones attended Mitchell-Baker High School in Camilla where he was a two-time all-state player and a second team Parade All-American pick. He choose to play for the University of Georgia over several other schools that were recruiting him.
"I owe so much to my mom and aunt for getting me out of a bad environment and putting me in a situation where I had a chance to succeed. They have been key reasons why I've enjoyed the success I've had," Jones added.
Jones has come a long way during his life--a really long way. With his work ethic, dedication and determination, it's a safe bet he will continue to achieve higher levels of success in basketball, as well as in life. One of his next great accomplishments may be helping the 76ers win an NBA Championship.