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Hoop Dreams

By: Keith Jones

I suppose a person should be old to tell the story of your life. But, since I am actively engaged in writing my story now, maybe it makes sense to share it.

For those of you who don't know America, it is difficult to explain the pull of sports on a kid. For a kid not born to wealth or power, it can seem the only way to make something of your life. While every kid dreams of the "big time" sports is quietly changing their lives in ways they don't even realize. My life has been changed by sports.

I was born in 1984, yes that makes me 20 now. My parents had 4 daughters and me. I was forever the middle child, being the middle child can make you crazy. I should tell you that I was born in Stark County, Ohio. Why is that important? It is the home of professional football. We even have the Hall of Fame here. It is also the home of some of the greatest high school football teams in history. Great names like Canton McKinley and it's archrival Massillon Washington High School. In Massillon, the football booster club gives every newborn baby a football in the nursery. I was born in Canton where they don't give out footballs, but every dad dreams of watching his son score that winning touchdown.

Growing up with my father was great fun. Football was what he had in mind for me. He spent hours with me throwing that ball. He had his dreams, and I had mine. At the age of 7, I told my parents that I had my own goals and dreams to chase. I was going to play basketball.

I began to play for my grade school team. I was surprised when I made the team. For the first year it was all about learning. But, I got better as time went on. The more I practiced and played, the better I got. An easy recipe for success. By my last year in grade school I was 10 years old. I was proud of being the best player on the team and a team captain. I had grown as a player. I was beginning to learn the lessons that sport teaches. Nothing happens without hard work and dedication. And I was dedicated. But, I was still a little boy.

Suddenly, I found myself in middle school at a school rich in basketball traditions and championships to back that tradition us. Out of all the schools in the county, I found myself quite by accident in exactly the right place. Was someone helping me reach my goal? The other players were bigger than I, they were older than I and I would have to wait my turn to prove myself again. The next three years of my life would tell if I was ready to take my love for basketball further or let it go. The early teen years can be filled with danger. The streets and your peers call your name. "Come join us, we are having fun." But, the path they begin to walk ends in heartbreak for someone. Basketball kept me on my own track.

As 7th. Grade started I knew this was my year to prove myself. I could hang with the other good players from the city of Canton and Stark County who were my own age. We would begin lifelong friendships and rivalries. Each had the same dream. Some would fall by the wayside; others would change sports and become great football athletes. A few would persevere and hold onto their dream.

Rather than playing on the 7th. Grade team, I found myself with the older guys on the 8th. Grade team. For an athlete, that is the equivalent of skipping a grade in school. The guys were older and more confidant; I had my share of growing pains, but like I had learned when I was younger, I listened to the people who wanted to help me grow and become better. Basketball was once again teaching me a lesson that I will use my entire life. Adults are always trying to help young people. But, young people don't see it that way and so they don't listen. Basketball taught me to listen, and listen carefully.

The middle school years were great, not only did I get taller, but also more confident thanks to coaches and teachers and parents who never stopped telling me the things I needed to know. But now a huge step loomed for me. I was about to attend high school and that meant the games played by gangly growing boys were about to become a matter of civic pride. Winning is so much better than losing!

Looking at going to high school, I knew the process would change. I would no longer be able to "show boat" an expression for showing off. I would have to stop the childish act of "talking trash" to the opponents in order to rattle them and get them out of their game plan. While basketball was my dream, my parents dreamed of seeing that I got the best education possible. And so, I left my friends behind and left the public school system to attend a Catholic High School. We weren't Catholic, but they were known for their molding of young minds and young characters. That is what my parents really cared about. My high school career had set backs. Due to a clerical error, I was forced to sit out a year when I changed high schools my senior year. A lot of people might have given up, but basketball was my passion. I found a team at a local club called the CYC and I played my best game for them. I had been 7 years old when I first watched Michael Jordan and the Bulls on television. I wasn't going to give up now.

All along the process, people I didn't know said I would go far because I was a natural. That sort of praise can make you think you are somehow better than everyone else. If I was a natural, I hadn't done that. I give the praise for that to my creator. But, my ability to play a smart game, a balanced game, I give that praise to my coaches. I was just a little kid when Zeb Freeman, Cory Wallace and Coach Mike Parish at Gibbs Elementary School gave me a chance. They are the ones who I got my start from. They never discouraged a little boy's dream. They may have chuckled to them about every little boy wanted to play in the pros, but they didn't let on to us.

It is funny how things work out because I have been in love with basketball for over 13 years. Now, a lifelong passion and the dream of getting to the highest level of basketball is in my reach. I've played grade school, middle school, high school and now I'm playing in college and looking to reach the National Basketball Association or the NBA as it is known. It is a huge dream, but since my cousin plays for the Utah Jazz, I know it is a dream a kid from Canton, Ohio can achieve. Many great players have come from my hometown. I hope someday to join them.

It is important for young people to dream BIG and go after something that seems impossible because then you will give your all until you reach that goal. You will know the joy of giving 110% of you. If you don't dream and have goals what are you living for? It doesn't have to be sports, I know a little girl who dreams of being a veterinarian and going to Africa to help the people there. That dream will give her life a focus; it will help her stay on a positive path. Dream BIG. Aim for the stars, you might hit the moon. Being a young person, most people think you are just going to get yourself in trouble. It is a very different world out there now for kids. But, if you are going after a goal and following a dream, you have a lot less time to mess up and get into trouble. Stay busy and stay focused on your dreams and goals to reach your final destination.

While I am now playing college basketball, my true dream is to attend the best school of all. It has long been my dream to play for the Wake Forest Demon Deacons of the ACC. I followed this team when I was a boy and my grandfather wanted me to come to North Carolina and play for them. He had a dream too. I am moving forward with that dream and have just completed the application form to attend that school. It gives my parents their dream of the finest education for me and it gives me the absolutely best basketball program in the country. Grandpa would be proud of all of us. Of course, I haven't been accepted yet, but I have faith that this is my destiny. I imagine the joy of playing in a national championship with the Deacs. Perhaps, someday an NBA final. But, for now, I give back to the game and to those who helped me, by helping other young kids find their love of basketball. I would like someday to have my own B-Ball camp for children in my hometown. If you don't give back, you don't deserve the gift you were given.

Basketball has taught me many lessons. People may cheat, play dirty to win. Others are good sportsman. I know which I want to be. Losing feels awful, winning feels better, but losing has lessons to teach too. We are all just human beings and no one wins all the time, learn to be both a gracious winner and a gracious loser. But, always try to win.

Basketball has also taught me many things which I will use my entire life. The importance of team work, don't ever give up, keep trying to get along with others, even if they don't like you. It has also taught me to love something wholeheartedly. To give the very best I have in me, to compete at the highest level of my ability for the sake of the team. Kids now think of me as a role model. That is a huge responsibility, but it is also a wonderful payoff. I can't think of anything better than for a kid to look up to me the way I looked up to my first coach in the 3rd. Grade. He made a huge difference in my life and I hope I can make a difference in the lives of others. Basketball has given me that opportunity, not just a game, but a path. If I am honest and faithful to my dream, I will live a successful life, regardless of the ultimate outcome. But, everyone please say a tiny prayer that the people at Wake Forest will find Keith Jones to their liking. It never hurts to have friends in high places and God is the best friend a boy could ever have. After all, God made me a "natural."

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