Adam Zagoria covers basketball at all levels. He is the author of two books and an award-winning journalist whose articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Sports Illustrated, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide.
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Former Teammates Walker, Jones to Meet in Elite Eight
Moe Hicks still wonders what might have been.
During the 2007-8 season, Hicks could have fielded a backcourt at Rice High School that featured Kemba Walkerand Lamont “Momo” Jones.
Instead, while Hicks was abroad in Amsterdam on a college all-star tour that September, Jones withdrew from Rice and headed to American Christian (Pa.). He spent his junior year there playing alongside Tyreke Evans before the school closed, forcing him to finish up his high school career at Oak Hill Academy in Mouth of Wilson, Va.
“They would have been great,” Hicks, now the director of basketball operations at St. John’s, said of a potential Walker/Jones backcourt. “The best dynamic duo at Rice ever, even better than Kenny Satterfield and Andre Barrett. They would have been one of the best in the country.”
Walker and Jones remain close friends but they will put that friendship aside when they reunite Saturday when UConn (29-9) faces Arizona (30-7) in the West Regional final in Anaheim, Calif.
“I mean, it’s always going to be love there,” Jones told reporters in Anaheim after putting up 16 points and six assists as Arizona stunned defending national champion Duke, 93-77, Thursday night in a game that saw Arizona star Derrick Williams destroy the Blue Devils with a career-high 32 points and 13 rebounds.
“That’s my best friend, that’s like my brother,” Jones added of Walker. “That’s off the court. When you on the court, you enemies. I gotta go with my teammates, he gotta go with his teammates. That’s basically the bottom line. We’re both gonna come out and play two great games and try to lead our teams to the win, to the Final Four.
“Off the court is off the court. On the court I ride with my teammates all the time.”
Walker poured in 36 points Thursday — including 10 straight during one stretch — to lead UConn over San Diego State, 74-67. UConn freshman Jeremy Lamb added a career-best 24 points.
“We won five games in five days in the Big East tournament, and everybody said we were going to be tired,” Walker said. “After that, everybody said it was going to affect us in the second and third round of the tournament and it hasn’t yet. We’re playing great basketball as a team. We have something huge in front of us. We have a huge goal as a team, and we’re not going to let fatigue beat us. We’re going to overcome it. We have a team that is extremely mentally tough, and that’s going to get us over the hump.”
During the 2005-6 season at Rice, Edgar Sosa was the starting point guard, with both Walker and Jones backing him up..
“They both came off the bench that year,” Hicks said.
The following year, Walker was a junior, and Jones a sophomore on a team that also included Durand Scott (now at Miami) and Chris Fouch (Drexel). That year the Raiders beat a Chicago Simeon team that featured then-Memphis-bound Derrick Rose in the Nike Super Six at Madison Square Garden. Jones helped hold Rose scoreless in the first quarter before he finished with 22 points.
But in the fall of 2007, Jones, who had already committed to Louisville coach Rick Pitino at that point, opted to leave Rice while Hicks was away.
Jeneen Fuller, Jones’ mother, told reporters at the time that she wanted her son to play a more competitive national schedule and felt her son could do so playing for former Wings Academy coach Tony Bergeron at American Christian.
Yet Jones told the Daily News in Anaheim that the shooting death of his father, Clarence Sims, Jr., when he was 8, led to his decision to leave New York City.
“It’s hard to live somewhere where you step out of your building and know that when you walk down that block, it’s the place your father last laid,” Jones told the newspaper. “He got shot right down the block [from] my house. Every day I had to walk past there. Every day my feet had to touch that same spot he last laid….It’s tough. A lot of people don’t know what that feels like. [They] might not be strong enough to walk down that path where your father that died took his last breath on.”
Whatever the case, Jones left New York and fluctuated on his college decision several more times — pledging to Virginia Tech and USC — before ultimately committing to Arizona in June 2009. Arizona assistant Book Richardson is Jones’ Godfather. (Richardson also coached Walker on a loaded New York Gauchos AAU team that also included current Big East players Jordan Theodore of Seton Hall, Truck Bryant of West Virginia and Devin Hill of DePaul.)
Jones wasn’t the only New York City prep star to leave the city.
His Arizona teammate Kevin Parrom departed St. Raymond’s to spend a year at South Kent (Conn.).
Doron Lamb left Bishop Loughlin after his sophomore year for Oak Hill and will suit up for Kentucky Friday night against Ohio State in Newark.
Erving Walker, another New York City product remaining the tournament, played his career at Christ the King before heading to Florida, which will meet Butler in the Southeast Regional final Saturday.
Walker remained home at Rice and, without Jones by his side, became a McDonald’s All-American and helped lead the Raiders to a CHSAA divisional title in 2008 before heading off to UConn.
Now, the two close friends, will reunite with a trip to the Final Four on the line.
“I don’t think anyone wants to look me in the eye,” Jones told the Daily News. “I think the only person who ever looked me in the eye while playing was Kemba. He’s the only player who when you look at him that certain way, he can look back with that look that says ‘there’s no fear here.’ It’s a New York thing.”
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Adam Zagoria is a Basketball Insider who covers basketball at all levels. A contributor to The New York Times and SportsNet New York (SNY), he is also the author of two books and is an award-winning journalist and filmmaker. His articles have appeared in ESPN The Magazine, SLAM, Sheridan Hoops, Basketball Times and in newspapers nationwide. He also won an Emmy award for his work on the SNY mini-documentary on Syracuse guard Tyus Battle.
A veteran Ultimate Frisbee player, he has competed in numerous National and World Championships and, perhaps more importantly, his teams won the Westchester Summer League (WSL) championships in 2011 and 2013.
He lives in Manhattan with his wife and children.