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It's A Mighty Good Road
Alexander Wolff
October 17, 1983
Basketball is the route by which the six brothers Jones, all 6'8" or taller, have traveled from home in McGehee, Ark. to Albany (Ga.) State and beyond
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October 17, 1983

It's A Mighty Good Road

Basketball is the route by which the six brothers Jones, all 6'8" or taller, have traveled from home in McGehee, Ark. to Albany (Ga.) State and beyond

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The Desha coach visited the Jones house, vainly pleading with the father to intercede. "I told Charles he was on his own," says Caldwell Sr. "You make your bed soft or you make your bed hard, 'cause you're the one who's got to sleep on it. When he asked me one day before his last year, 'If I start playing ball, will you come see me?' I said sure. And he said, 'I'm thinking about it.' "

Charles had one splendid season under a new high school coach, but he just as easily could have chosen life on the farm over college if it hadn't been for the chance to play with Major. When Cunningham cut him from the Sixers' roster before last season, he said the club wasn't satisfied with Charles's point production. Charles had taken it for granted: We need you to sacrifice your scoring....

Melvin, on the other hand, couldn't have done more than rebound and play defense. "Melvin threw a good outlet pass and was a great intimidator," says Wil. "And he had a real knack for rebounding. Of all of us, he probably made the most of his skills."

Yet there are those who think Wil is the one who has made the most of his considerable talent. He was the last of the brothers to attend McGehee's segregated Wolf Project High and the last to farm without mechanization. "Wil spent a lot of time by himself working on his game," says Alvin Williams, a cousin from McGehee who is now a high school coach in Chicago. "Even when he was little, he worked on fancy ball handling. He could do more things with a ball than any of the brothers."

Wil could attack a press or fill a lane on the break and wasn't a bad shooter. But defense, of course, was his forte, as he proved in 1974-75, when he played for the ABA champion Kentucky Colonels. When asked who gave him the most trouble on defense, Erving, then playing for the ABA New York Nets, said, "I'm not sure who No. 2 is, but No. 1 is Wil Jones."

He'd like to try assistant coaching and sent the Atlanta Hawks a resume after Kevin Loughery was named coach before the 1981-82 season, but he didn't get an interview. "I always say work, but don't work too hard," says Wil. "That same work'll be there when you're gone."

Oliver's credo is posted over the desk in his office: THE FIRST LINE OF BUSINESS IS TO MIND YOUR OWN BUSINESS. IF YOU HAVE NO BUSINESS, MAKE IT YOUR BUSINESS TO LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE'S BUSINESS ALONE. His first line of business is to win a Division II title. He has already made Albany State a consistent winner, going 179-120 over his 11 seasons. "He's a quiet leader," says Fred (Doc) Suttles, voice of the Rams for 10 years. "A Bud Grant type." But Oliver has been vocal about the need for a bigger place to play for his team, which regularly packs ramshackle, 1,800-seat Sanford Hall on campus. After much debate, the city has finally built an 8,600-seat arena within several hundred yards of the college.

And Oliver has a new drawing card: 6'3" John Somerville, who last season became the Rams' first white player ever (16% of the student body is now non-black). Somerville, who is from Chicago, was Oliver's personal recruiting project. "All John knew about us was that we were a Division II school, ranked Number Two in Jet magazine," Oliver says. "I talked to his whole family on the phone and a relationship started to build."

Oliver remembers Somerville's visit in May of 1982 with great satisfaction. Caldwell was in Boston with the Sixers, already down 1-0 in a best-of-seven series for the Eastern Conference title. On a balmy evening in Georgia, Oliver and his recruit cooled out by the TV set in his living room as they watched Caldwell score a season-high 22 points. The 76ers bagged Game 2 121-113, and Oliver bagged his white guard.

The Sixers' series with Boston became a classic: Philly going up 3-1, but losing the next two, thus necessitating a trip back to Boston for a seventh game. The Sixers were in need of a verbal whipping, and their leader, Erving, knew that. But the team also had several young, delicate and vital parts. Jones, we need for you to sacrifice....

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