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"I didn't truly understand the use of a big man on offense," he says now. "I was accustomed to guys climbing all the time with every basket a fight. We had proved we could win without a center. I couldn't change the offense just to suit one sophomore."
Since the coach also headlines his seniors, giving them the opportunity to, as he puts it, "make the sweet gravy" from the pros, there was no compulsion to bring Chones out from under his wraps. As a result the young rookie played last year in the shadow of Dean Meminger (now making gravy with the New York Knickerbockers) and bided his time in the learning process. Chones set up in the normal position for a Marquette center—the high post. He seldom went low on a drive to the basket, took most of his shots on a turnaround jump from the 10-foot range and was able to dominate only on defense. Because the Marquette offense is neither guard-oriented nor particularly forward-minded but relies rather on movements initiated by its own pressing defense, Chones was, in his own words, "a man almost without a game" when the Warriors got the ball.
Their proclivity for hiding their big man did not keep the Warrior coaches—McGuire and his assistant, Hank Raymonds—from acknowledging Chones' ample talents. "Jimmy is probably the best shooter I've ever had," McGuire said privately before the start of last season. "He's strong enough, unbelievably mobile sideline to sideline and maybe the fastest big man in the game." He told the somewhat unsure Chones himself, "Nobody knows you now, so enjoy it. In two years you won't go anywhere without the autographs."
Still, Chones asserted himself early in the year with an 18-point, 10-rebound second half against Minnesota and its own good sophomore, Jim Brewer. He had played an undistinguished first half comprised mostly of standing around, but at intermission he decided to "just do it." The Warriors ended up winning the game 70-61, and from then on it was apparent that Chones saved doing it for the big ones. Playing in a deliberate, low-shot offense, he made over 20 points in only nine games, but five of those were against tournament teams. In an 85-80 overtime victory over Fordham in Madison Square Garden, Chones had 22 points (seven of them in the extra period) and 15 rebounds. Against Kentucky in the consolation game of the Mideast Regional he embarrassed the Wildcats' Payne 27 points to one and 12 rebounds to two as Marquette won 91-74. Chones finished the season with modest averages of 17.9 points and 11.4 rebounds while shooting .574 from the field. Unfortunately, it was three shots he missed in Marquette's 60-59 loss to Ohio State that are best remembered.
In that contest he battled Luke Witte, still another exceptional Big Ten sophomore center, to a standstill. But with about 45 seconds to go and the Warriors behind by a point, Chones jerked the trigger on two turnaround jump shots from 15 feet. After a Marquette time out he was set up again from 12 feet, and with 24 seconds left, fired once more. All three shots hit the front of the rim and bounced away; finally the Warriors turned the ball over and, with it, their 39-game winning streak.
"I could make those shots with my eyes closed," Chones says today. "You think I haven't dreamed about that plenty of times since? On two I had room to drive and was too stupid to go in. I might have been too confident and pulled the string each time. I know I never tightened up like that before."
In the months to follow, Chones received precious little time to dwell on the defeat. When he wasn't traveling over two continents as the starting pivotman for the U.S. Pan-American team, he was fending off requests for conferences with representatives of professional clubs. He talked the situation over with his coaches, his family, envoys from the legal profession and Kareem Abdul Jabbar. He made up his mind to reject the offers, wavered on a few later occasions and, with pressure mounting, put his foot down. He decided to stay at least one more year at Marquette.
The reasons for his decision included loyalty to his team and the deathbed wish of his father that he gain a college education. Most importantly, the experience demonstrated to Chones his own maturity in handling a difficult situation and revealed to him the kind of problems awaiting him beyond the concrete sidewalks of Marquette.
"I can't go anywhere without people bringing up this professional business," he says. "But I weighed the negative and positive aspects and I've done the right thing. People from the ghetto say I blew it, but they don't know how much my father wanted me to get an education. Or how much money Spencer Haywood and Ralph Simpson actually lost by leaving school. On the other side, businessmen downtown say, 'Oh, you've made a fine choice.' But they never had to watch their mother sweep up roaches and piles of rats in the summer, or had to eat biscuits for two weeks because their father was on strike. I'll admit I'm still confused. I just want to forget about it now, play this year and try to win the national championship. Kareem told me to remember one important thing—if you're big and you're good, you'll get your money no matter what happens."
What happened long ago back in Racine was that a family grew up under remarkable close domestic and religious ties, providing the major influence on Chones even after he left home. He is the oldest among six children whose father, J.W., toiled for 20 years at the J.I. Case foundry and felt so strongly that his older son should improve upon the job that he refused ever to let young Jim go near the place, not even to pick up the weekly paycheck when J.W. took sick.