Goodbye, JJ Hones

JJ Hones is no ordinary player. She has a gift for playing point guard. She is a great passer with a steady presence, and garnered more minutes per game her freshman year (24.3) than her more heralded classmate Jayne Appel (19.3).

In that first year, before an ACL tear took the last half of the season away from her, Hones started 20 of the 23 games she played in; she had 90 assists and only 32 turnovers, an exceptional 2.81 ratio. She was a quiet and steady presence, playing big during a December 2006 interlude when Candice Wiggins was unable to play.

The January 2007 ACL tear was, unfortunately, a harbinger of more injuries to come, including a second ACL tear at the beginning of her junior year. In Hones' most complete season, her sophomore year, she was a vital cog in a team that, under Candice Wiggins' leadership, went to the team's first Final Four in a decade, losing to Tennessee in the national championship game. That year, Hones continued her point-guard leadership with a high assist-to-turnover ratio (2.55) while shooting 38 percent from three point range.

JJ Hones had many fans. I'm one. All of us were frustrated and disappointed to learn of her dismissal from the team earlier this week. Hones was reportedly arrested on campus for driving a golf cart erratically, attempting to evade officers, and failing a sobriety test during the early hours of Sunday, May 2. That's all that has been publicly disclosed.

The Hones story highlights the Faustian elements to the deal a gifted high-school athlete accepts when she agrees to compete in a high-profile collegiate sport. There was a time when the post-Saturday-night-party antics of a Stanford women's basketball player would have been a yawner – a story without legs. In an era in which women's athletics were club sports, there was no significant body of fans and no media attention for what these young women did in their private lives. But Title IX has brought more money, more attention, and more consequences to a Stanford women's basketball player. Male basketball and football players have long had to face these realities, and now the women do too.

So yes, accepting a four-year scholarship to play basketball at Stanford, on the men's or women's team, brings some amazing and very substantial benefits. You are invited to attend without significant cost one of the world's finest universities, to learn from some of the world's best coaches, to become a role model with your name widely known, and to have an opportunity to develop your skills for possible pursuit of a professional sports career. If professional sports is not in the future, the name recognition that a Stanford athlete gets still opens many doors. This is hardly a pact with the devil, but the Faustian part of the bargain is the sacrifice of your privacy. Young men and women who play in high-profile college sports must expect their conduct to be examined more closely. If they err, as most young people occasionally do, the consequences they face, at least in terms of publicity, go well beyond those that an average college student would face. Maybe that's wrong, but it is reality.

As a fan, I believe in JJ Hones. Whatever mistakes she has made, whatever issues may confront her, I know that she has the discipline and fortitude to face them. She has, after all, twice come back from debilitating knee injuries. None of the events of the past week will mar my admiration for what Hones achieved on the court, nor will it lessen my confidence in what she can achieve for the future. The cliche of learning from your mistakes actually works – Hones might, for example, end up speaking to other young athletes, urging them to learn from her experience.

For fans, Hones has left some indelible and very positive memories. Here are some of my favorites:

I will remember JJ Hones for her great passing, her positive attitude, her cheerful smile, and, in the face of injury adversity, her dedication to her sport and to her team.

I will remember the promotional video that JJ Hones did for the women's basketball team – running and running and running, all the while with a bright countenance and life-is-good aura surrounding her.

I will remember Hones' March 2008 career game against Maryland in the NCAA Regional Finals in Spokane -- she scored 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, playing all 40 minutes and garnering four assists with just two turnovers.

I will remember Hones' April 2008 game against UConn in the NCAA semifinals -- she scored 11 points behind 3-of-6 shooting from the three-point line, playing 36 minutes and recording six assists with only one turnover. Her final play of the game was to block a three-point shot attempt, resulting in an incorrectly-called fifth foul.

I will remember the March 2010 post-game celebration after Stanford narrowly bested Xavier in the NCAA Regional Final. Tears were streaming down the face of an exhausted and emotionally drained Rosalyn Gold Onwude. The first player to see this was JJ Hones. She gave Rosalyn a big, big hug.


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