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Bill Knight may be reached at [email protected]; 546-6171. El Paso Times So many of these stories end badly. They end in sadness, in disappointment, sometimes in the throes of tragedy. Happily ever after? Most simply consider that a fairy tale ending. This may not be happily ever after. But there is no sadness, no disappointment, no tragedy to this ending. This is the story of Kimani Jones-Young, the story of a young man with big basketball dreams. It involves success and it involves failure, a fall from grace and a downward spiral … the kind of downward spiral that so many times rages out of control, ending in tragedy. Not this story. Todd Seward, Police Athletic League regional director for programming in New York, said, “Kimani is on an upward trajectory.” It certainly seemed so in those UTEP years. Jones-Young, a talented 6-foot-3 guard, finished his UTEP career in 1997 with 1,023 points — one of only 26 players in Miners history to score more than 1,000 points in a career. Jones-Young did it in three seasons, transferring from Long Island University after his freshman year. He led the Miners in scoring in his final two seasons, averaging 16.6 points a game as a junior, 17.0 as a senior. Jones-Young graduated with a degree in criminal justice. He was intelligent, articulate and seemed to have the world on a string. Then the string snapped. “My degree is in criminal justice,” Jones-Young said. “How ironic. I was just someone who thought I was smarter than everyone else. I saw an opportunity to make some quick money. I saw an opportunity to make thousands of dollars, just by driving around and introducing some people. I made a terrible, terrible mistake. I embarrassed myself, I embarrassed my family and I created a black eye for the UTEP basketball program.” Jones-Young was arrested for what officials at the time called possession of 96 pounds of marijuana. He was sentenced to one year in a federal prison. The downward spiral already had begun. It began when he first got involved with drugs. But the spiral dipped even lower. “I spent one year in the federal prison in Allenwood, Pa.,” Jones-Young said. “It was a humbling experience. People telling you when to get up, when to go to bed, when to eat. It certainly tells you that you better get your stuff in order. My first day … well, let’s just again say it was a very humbling experience. I spent time thinking how did I end up here. I was a guy who had good family support. I had a great mom. I had all my basketball ties, playing for a great coach like coach (Don) Haskins. I had my college degree. How did I end up here?” Jones-Young could have taken the easy route, the path of least resistance and continued to plummet into that downward spiral. But he went another direction. Now, the 31-year-old former college basketball star is another kind of star. He is a star to those who need it most. Young people. Jones-Young is the director of the Wynn Center in Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, N.Y. He also is in charge of therapeutic recreation for Kaplan House, a foster care program for young men at risk, ages 16-21. He takes them to games, plays basketball with them, takes them to plays and movies. He also coaches AAU basketball, working with Team Next. The program is for sixth-, seventh- and ninth-graders. Jones-Young is the assistant director of that program and coaches the sixth- graders. He also is involved in Big Apple Basketball, an organization that works with young athletes and puts on an all-star game for 40 of the top unsigned seniors in New York each year. Laughing, Jones-Young said, “It’s seven days a week and I love it.” Seward is Jones-Young’s supervisor and he simply raves about the former Miner star. “The Wynn Center is in a very urban community, a very rough neighborhood,” Seward said. “Kimani’s performance has been outstanding. He has fun with young people. He sets appropriate boundaries, yet at the same time he has compassion. The way he carries himself as a professional is impressive. He’s got 200 young people ages 6-13 from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., then at 6 p.m. he transitions to teen activities. He is instrumental in their lives. “In his job, you can be great with kids and that is still not enough,” Seward said. “You’ve got to come with some administrative skills. And that is where he has impressed me the most. He is something kids vitally need. And from a personal perspective, he is a young man I have a great deal of respect for.” Former Miner Steve Yellen has seen Jones-Young at work, too. “I walked into that rec center a few months ago and the place was packed,” Yellen said. “Hundreds of people. There was a game going on, talented kids at 6-foot-5, 6-6. Kimani was handling the microphone and it was beautiful. There were little kids hanging on him. He is the godfather of the neighborhood. Something bad happened to him and he turned it around. You walk around the neighborhood with him and he can’t go 10 steps without someone stopping him — boys, girls, older people … no matter the age. They all come up to him. You have to love that guy. He does great things for young people. He is one of the most important people in that community.” Jones-Young has a happy life these days. He would like to do even more coaching, but he said he could not be happier doing what he is doing. “I love it,” he said. “I still love the game. This is what I’m born to do — work with young people. Looking back, I don’t think I was as prepared for life after basketball, life after college, as I should have been. So many of us come into college wanting to be a professional athlete. Our career goals stop there.” Jones-Young said he felt lucky to get just one year in prison, said he felt the penalty was certainly warranted. “I would tell young athletes today to just stay away from it,” he said. “My kids here know my experience. But I try not to share my entire experience. I don’t want to glorify it and there are a lot of guys who are worse. But I do have a point of reference. Unfortunately, a lot of people have to learn on their own.” Haskins, who is a Hall of Fame coach and something of a legend, was angry with Jones-Young. “Coach has forgiven me,” Jones-Young said. “He has had a profound affect on me as a coach and a person. We still talk on the phone occasionally.” Haskins said, “I was mad at him. Sure. But I’m glad he’s straightening himself out. He’s called me several times and we talk. I’m glad he’s doing well now. I’m really happy he’s doing something so constructive.” Jones-Young said, “I loved every minute of my time in El Paso. The program was great. The people were great. It was everything I had hoped for in a college basketball experience. Some of the best memories of my life were there. I still enjoy following the program. I’ve talked to one of the assistant coaches, Ed Custodio, and hopefully we can get some of our players down there.” The Jones-Young story is evolving a mile-a-minute these days, a seven-day-a-week whirlwind of a journey with young people … a journey on that “upward trajectory.” This easily could have been one of those many other stories, the kind that fall out of control, spiraling downward into sadness and despair and darkness. It is not and it is simply a credit to the man. “I felt so lucky when the judge told me I got one year,” he said. “It could have been so much worse. I was embarrassed. But I never hung my head. I did a lot of reading, a lot of soul searching in prison. I made a promise to myself, to my family. I will turn this around.” Haskins said simply, “So many times, it doesn’t turn out this way. This is a good story.” It is a good story … a story of a life saved, a life turned around. No sadness. No tragedy. It is a story of one man rebounding from a mistake, taking on the challenges that face young people every minute, every hour, every day. It is, quite simply, a happy story. CAREER RECAP • Career points: 1,023 in three seasons, 24th in UTEP history. • Career free-throw percentage: .792, fifth in UTEP history. • Career steals: 103, eighth in UTEP history. Copyright (c) El Paso Times. All rights reserved. Reproduced with the permission of Gannett Co., Inc. by NewsBank, inc.
Record Number: elp16082958