By: Derek Gonzales
The junior college route is never easy. It is a place that collegiate athletes prefer to avoid because it is not glorious. It is tough going to a college that are sometimes smaller than the high school they graduated from, playing in mostly empty gyms, a far cry from the Rupp Arenas or Cameron Indoor Stadiums that most envision themselves playing in as basketball players growing up. For New Mexico State power forward Marlon Jones, it helped shaped him into the basketball player he is today.
“When people think of the junior college route, they will begin to second guess it,” Jones said. “But junior college is only two years, and it gets your mentally and physically prepared for the next level you are trying to play at. It also helped me playing under Hall of Famer in Steve Green, who pushed me to be the best I can be.”
In high school, Jones was named a three-star recruit by ESPN as a senior, the 14th-ranked prospect in the state of Illinois. The Chicago native led Orr High School to the state semi-finals as a junior and senior. He committed to Loyola-Chicago out of the Missouri Valley Conference, which would have kept him in his hometown town, but Jones was unable to meet the academic requirements.
“It hurt me. I was sick to my stomach and it hurt my mom too,” Jones said about the moment he found out he would not be able to play at Loyola. “They told me I was academically ineligible towards the end of the summer, so all of my offers were off the table because the recruiting period ended, so the junior college route is the only route I could take.
As a freshman at South Plains College, Jones helped guide the Texans to a 29-7 record, while averaging 7.6 points and 4.6 rebounds per game. En route to the junior college national championship game, Jones dropped 17 points and pulled in 7 rebounds in the semi-final game.
At that point, interest begin coming from prominent Division-I programs such as LSU and Oklahoma State.
After a sophomore season that saw his averages jump to 10.8 points per game and 5.5 rebounds with 14 starts, it was time to make a decision that would complete his journey back to Division-I basketball, and NMSU stood out to Jones above all other suiters.
“Everything happens for a reason, and it is all a part of God’s plan,” Jones said, looking back at the journey that landed him in Las Cruces. “I loved the vibe from coach Weir and coach (Jesse) Bopp when they recruited me, and how they are so young and energetic. I loved the feeling when I came on my visit.”
With the season opening up this week, Jones will be starting a new chapter of his life–one that he hopes includes a couple of WAC championship rings, but it will be hard to ignore the emotions felt when Jones takes the court for the first time as an Aggie Friday night.
“It will be a big accomplishment in my life. It is not the end of the route, but with all that I have been through, it is just a big accomplishment to play for a Division-I team.”