By Charles Vanegas
With less than 10 seconds left, the Rams had the ball in Ottawa’s zone, trailing 70-72. The play was simple — Jahmal Jones, the team’s leader and best playmaker, was to find an open spot, and make a play. Seeing nothing, he drove through the middle. But the tight Gee-Gees defense eliminated any chance of him making a lay-up, so he passed the ball behind him, to Bjorn Michaelsen. Michaelsen jumped, trying to find an open man, but there was no one to pass to. So he landed.
Travel. Loss of possession. Game over.
“I just told him after the game ‘I’m sorry I put you in that position,’” says Jones.
Jones doesn’t have to take the blame. He could attribute the loss to injuries, or the referees’ obsession with calling so many offensive fouls in such an important game, or even the play calling. He could point towards his 15 points on 6-for-9 shooting in the first half and say he was the main reason they were even in that game at halftime (which isn’t incorrect.) But he doesn’t. He doesn’t have that luxury.
Outside of friends or classmates, the one varsity athlete that you’ve probably heard of is Jahmal Jones. Since his rookie year, he’s been the go-to guy, leading the team in points and assists and being named an OUA All-star in every season. And when you go to Rams basketball games, you’ll see a giant portrait of Jones on the wall.
“My closest teammates, my brothers, my friends, my family, even coaches, former coaches, they always try to remind me ‘that you’re the face,’” says Jones. “To me, it’s just pictures.”
After being a heavily sought-after recruit in his senior year of high school — when he played the entire season with a torn meniscus — Jones came to Ryerson after head coach Roy Rana sold him on the new facility being constructed, and the idea of building a championship contender.
“The biggest challenge was to somehow try to put Ryerson on the map as a basketball powerhouse. That was the biggest thing for me,” he says. “You always want to accept the challenge of going somewhere and building it, where you can put your stamp, put your name on it. When you leave here, you want to be able to say you did something that was never accomplished before.”
And in just three years, Jones can say he’s done something that’s never been accomplished. After the team advanced to the CIS National Championships for just the second time in team history in 2012, the team got its first win at that level, with a 84-80 victory over Concordia.
But with great results come great expectations, and many expected the team — which was only losing one starter — to return to the national tournament in 2013.
And while the team finished with their best record in 12 years, the playoff loss to Ottawa meant they wouldn’t get to play in the OUA Final Four again — which they were hosting at their new home, the Mattamy Athletic Centre. While Jones says it was difficult to see Windsor, Lakehead and Ottawa — three teams Ryerson had beaten during the season — playing for the Wilson Cup, it was even worse knowing he had disappointed people who were counting on them being there.
“You feel like you let a lot of people down, who had it planned, who bought tickets in advance. It’s hard to walk around, because you know people were wishing we were [playing],” says Jones. “It just hurt because it was here, and we know that had we made it, how much support we would have gotten — it would’ve been a zoo.”
As the point guard, Jones is relied upon to lead the offense and control the tempo of the game. It’ll also be Jones’ responsibility as a team captain to lead them through the pain of defeat, and on to the next level. Rana says Jones best leads by example.
“He’s very committed to developing as a player. He’ll do all the things that he’s asked as far as being in the weightroom. He’s responsible, he’s on time, he’s always in the gym doing extra work,” says Rana. “So if you’re an athlete, and he’s your leader, you know you sort of have to mirror his behaviour.
But Jones is still improving in other aspects of his leadership. A self-admitted introvert, Jones isn’t always the most vocal guy on the floor, something his coach says he needs to improve.
“It’s everything from readings to conversations,” says Rana. “Jahmal’s very different, so it’s going to be a very different type of leadership.”
And while Jones knows the pressure is on him, it’s something he accepts.
“I’m never satisfied with anything I do. Basketball, school, video games, whatever. That’s how I am as a person,” says Jones. “If there is [additional pressure on me], I’ll accept it. I want to be the best at anything I do. I know there’s going to be times when I fail. [But] pressure is something I put on myself.”