NEW PORT RICHEY — Ja'mil Jones' college basketball career has been far from typical.
The 6-foot, left-handed guard first applied his skills with Francis Marion University in his native South Carolina where he played a red-shirt season, but the death of his father from complications of diabetes, which included a heart attack, stroke and a pair of brain surgeries, quickly derailed his career there.
"When my father died, I went through a little adversity, and that's when I feel my relationship with God got a lot stronger," Jones said. "It was a hard process, but that was a lesson in 'he gives and takes.' Luckily, I've always had the opportunity since I was 4 years old to get between those four lines and focus just on basketball, which helped me get through that."
Basketball wasn't his only priority, however. As he struggled to deal with the loss of his father and the pressures of student athlete life, Jones' grades slipped, leading him to seek out a fresh start at a junior college. He would find it at Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey.
"I was recruited by a former coach here and since coming the environment has been really good for me," Jones said. "I've kind of realized that it's not just about me being an athlete. I have to be a student athlete, and student comes first. I'm enjoying my basketball here, and I think this team has a really good chemistry."
Jones is a versatile player who can play either guard position on the basketball court. PHCC head coach James Johnson thinks his quick-footed, smooth-shooting guard who can run the offense with efficiency will be missed most after his sophomore season for his leadership than anything else.
"He came here, and after everything he'd been through had to sit out for a lot of his freshman year which is challenging for a guy of his caliber," Johnson said. "He handled it well and really got his focus back academically and has been a great part of this team. This year we have a young team; he's one of just three sophomores and he's leading these guys both on and off the court. Now he has some teams looking at him so that he can go on from here."
The time on PHCC's bench was a lesson in making the most of the situation for Jones. Instead of stewing over his lack of playing time, Jones refocused on and off the court, learning from the mistakes and successes of the players in front of him to propel him to his current status as a team captain.
"I spent a lot of time watching our point guard last year, Alvin Satram, and saw the way he was a leader at all times," Jones said. "It was a lesson that I was able to take into this year because I just sort of naturally fell into a leadership role with this team, and now I actually prefer to play point guard because I want the ball in my hands and the ability to make plays or decisions in the game, to get my teammates involved and to take charge of the floor."
Jones lives with fellow out-of-state transplant, power forward Larry Rivers from Syracuse, N.Y. The two met while being recruited and hit if off immediately. Texting back and forth over the summer before moving to PHCC and eventually becoming roommates, the pair of sophomores have a relationship that has also bred success on the court as they are the second and third leading scorers on the team.
"He's the floor general, and he knows how to reward us big men for our hard work," Rivers says of Jones. "He can score, but his ability to pass is something I haven't had in a guard before. We get along on and off the court, he's like a brother for me. We just clicked since day one."
Note: Jones is averaging 16 points and 5.5 assists per game for the Conquistadors who are 5-12 this season having endured an injury riddled rough start. In January, however, the team has recovered, winning five of its last six games heading into Saturday's matchup with Trinity College.