Posted Mar 9 2012 12:32PM
SAN ANTONIO -- Before there was Linsanity and multi-million dollar endorsement opportunities and world-wide fame, Jeremy Lin was a ballplayer with a broken jump shot.
So David Jones fixed it.
Officially, "D.J." is the athletic director and boys and girls basketball coach at Buckner Fanning Christian School. But for nearly a decade he also has set up practice as a shot doctor in suburban San Antonio.
It was a relationship with Lin's agent, Roger Montgomery, that brought Lin to Jones' operating room in 2010, just a short time before the NBA draft.
"I guess like a lot of young players, Jeremy probably came into the gym a little bit skeptical about what he might be able to learn from a 44-year-old guy," Jones recalled. "But when he showed up for the first time we shot 3-pointers from five different positions on the floor, where you couldn't miss two in a row without starting over, and I was always finished long before him. And before we had even gotten that far, I think I impressed him by making 98 free throws in a row."
His own shooting prowess is Jones' calling card for a program called "Shooting for Success," where he combines the basic mechanics of a sound jump shot with fundamental life skills and core values.
A California native, Jones had played college ball at Concordia College in Austin, Texas, and played briefly for the Harlem Globetrotters. He then launched into a 12-year pro career in Europe that was almost over before it really got started.
The team he was playing for in Heidelberg, Germany, thought the 6-foot-1 Jones was too small to play shooting guard and was ready to cut him loose and sign another American. But a flight delay caused his replacement not to arrive in time for a game, Jones was put into the lineup and proceeded to make 11 3-pointers on his way to scoring 49 points. Later, while crossing paths with a young Dirk Nowitzki, Jones set the German League record, which he still holds, making a dozen 3s while scoring 61 points.
Jones says he can diagnose the flaws in anyone's shooting form in just a minute or two. What he saw in his first meeting with Lin was a jumper that was being launched more from the right side of Lin's head rather than the proper alignment straight off the forehead. Lin was also shooting the ball more from the palm of his right hand rather than keeping it on his fingertips for more control.
"We're not talking about anything radical or great secrets," Jones said. "It's the basic fundamentals of the game that I've always tried to work on with the college athletes, some pro and the kids in my school classes that I coach every day."
Jones says it usually easier to get the young kids to accept the proper form when they're starting out, before they develop bad habits.
"Through my playing career, I saw a lot of guys with some really funny looking shots," he said. "It's hard to tell how they got that way. Maybe it was the only way they could get ball up to the hoop when they were starting out. Who knows? But I'm convinced that anybody can get better if they do it the right way."
Jones said Lin showed results almost immediately because he was a willing pupil, who returned each day for personal instruction and also to interact with the younger kids at the school. In the last five years, the girls team at Fanning has gone undefeated and the boys team has lost only six games. Many of the current players were on hand when Lin was a pupil himself in their gym.
"Jeremy was great when he was here," Jones said. "His primary goal was to come to work on his shot. But he spent a lot of time talking to the kids, getting to know them, just playing around. That's what made things extra special when the all the 'Linsanity' stuff started to happen a few weeks ago. It was really neat. Our kids were really happy. They were jumping up and down and going nuts."
Not even the shot doctor himself ever predicted that Lin would go on to become a global phenomenon.
"You could tell he had talent, real skills, the kind that with the right break could make it at the NBA level," Jones said. "What you see in guys like that is maybe that extra level of determination that they have to always carry to prove themselves. If they get the right chance, it can take them far."
After leaving the shot doctor's office, Lin earned himself a spot on the Dallas Mavericks' summer league team and a few weeks later in Las Vegas, found himself matched up against John Wall, the No. 1 pick in the draft. Lin shot 6-for-12 from the field to score 13 points in 28 minutes and immediately after the game phoned Jones.
"He said, 'D.J., thank you. I thought about you every time that I made a shot against John,' " Jones recalled. "That thrilled me."
Teacher and student had not spoken since the onset of the "Linsanity" until the Knicks arrived in San Antonio on Wednesday night. Jones was sitting on the front row at courtside, accompanied by his 13-year-old daughter Mailee (who boasts a 30-point scoring average at Fanning). They all got to meet up after the game.
Lin scored 20 points in 29 minutes, hitting 2-for-4 from behind the arc.
"It looked like Jeremy was rushing things early with the way he was shooting the ball," Jones said. "And when he's at the foul line, I'd still like to see him get the ball more up on his fingertips. But hey, I'm not criticizing anything. Look where he is.
"This whole story has been so much fun, so uplifting. The kids at our school are following him. I just feel good to think that I might have played a small part."
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