Paris Jones, playing point guard during a DuVal High School junior varsity basketball scrimmage his freshman year, brought the ball up court and shot. Then, he did it again. And again. And again.
Finally his coach, Lafayette Dublin, snapped, and Jones recalled being loudly admonished for his selfish play. After looking Dublin up and down, Jones walked away.
Dublin kicked him out of the gym.
“It was just a shocker, because I was never really told I was shooting too much until that time,” Jones said.
For about 20 minutes, Jones said he peeked through a window, watching for Dublin to invite him back. Eventually, Dublin left practice for what both called a turning-point conversation.
Now a rising senior, Jones mostly smiles when he makes a mistake, welcoming Dublin's critiques. Using his distinctive springy style, Jones keeps his head low while dribbling, always looking for a crease to attack the rim, until he raises it like a periscope scanning the floor for an open teammate.
Jones — whom Dublin called the program's most-improved player — has developed an all-around game after starting high school with an attitude Dublin described as, “Forget the rest of the team, Allen Iverson, I'm going to do my own thing.”
“I could tell he was street, meaning he's used to playing outside, wasn't really used to organized basketball at the time,” said Dublin, who is coaching DuVal's varsity team this summer. “But one thing about kids that play in the street is he plays hard. He plays hard all the time.”
Jones is playing hard for longer stretches now, thanks to a training program that has him run 1 1/2 miles each morning in a 20-pound weight vest. As he runs through his Palmer Park neighborhood in Landover, Jones is aware of the labels that some would stick on him.
“Most people come from my area — they wouldn't think I'm a good kid,” Jones said. “But I'm a good kid.”
“Landover is just Landover. Just period. It's all violence, bad people everywhere. But I just keep my head down, stay away from it, be in the gym all day.”
Palmer Park Community Center has become haven for Jones, who has used its basketball court to develop his all-around game and become more than just a scorer.
Perhaps, Jones' biggest strides have come on defense. Three years ago, Dublin described Jones' defense as: “Watching guys go by him — pyoong, pyoong,” Dublin said. “Then, he'll come down, score and look all happy because he's scoring.”
Now?“Nobody likes to always have a gnat on him, flying around him all the time, creeping up behind you, stealing the ball, playing the lanes,” Dublin said.
Jones' work ethic has expanded along with his game. Unequipped to pass or defend a few years ago, he developed those skills only by putting in the time.
“A lot of people think they work out as much as he does, but they don't,” Dublin said. “He goes the extra mile. He never gets tired. It's a pleasure to coach him these last two years. His first year, I was going bald.”
Jones will be a captain next season, Dublin said. Another sign of his progress: Dublin said he now trusts Jones to balance scoring and distributing after a season in which the 5-foot-8 point guard was mostly relegated to setting up his senior teammates.
When Dublin told Jones he'd get to score more this season, Jones didn't suck his teeth, his one-common response to Dublin.
“He did his usual,” Dublin said. “Smiled ear to ear.”