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Growing Up ... James Jones

The Academic and Athletic Journey of the Man They Call "Champ"
James Jones
David Liam Kyle/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele
Cavs.com Beat Writer

Did you ever meet someone who’s so polished and put-together that it’s actually hard to picture that person as a child?

Cavs veteran, James Jones, falls under that category. The man they call “Champ” is a thoughtful and thought-provoking guy. Basketball is his craft – and he takes it seriously.

Jones grew up in Miami and later starred at “The U” – where he was inducted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame.

He ranks among the Association’s all-time top 30 three-point marksmen – with a .402 career percentage in his 14th season. He won the Three-Point Shootout at 2011 All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles and has been to six straight NBA Finals – winning two titles with his hometown Heat and, of course, one with the Wine and Gold.

"I always had the dream to make basketball my career, but I really didn’t think it was a reality until about 13."

James Jones - Cavaliers G/F

Off the floor, as a Finance major at Miami, Jones was a member of the Big East All-Academic Team during his first three years and was part of the prestigious Verizon Academic All-American team as a senior. At Coral Gables, James was a member of the National Honor Society and carried a 3.41 GPA.

In today’s installment of Growing Up, James Jones talks about why he developed his shooting skills, how he balanced basketball and academics and from which side of the family he got his rarely-seen nasty streak …


I come from an athletic family that’s … dominated by women. I had an aunt, Lisa Jones, and a cousin, Shay Jones, who played women’s basketball for the University of Miami. I had another aunt and another cousin who played collegiately. My cousin Shawn played for Marshall in the men’s program and other cousins who played football in college.

So my family, from top to bottom …is athletic.

But being that my mom had multiple sisters … that were all athletes and that their daughters were athletes, I actually come from a family of basketball women.

My mom was a correctional officer … in Florida. So she would play in the Police Olympics with the correctional officer’s team. So as a kid, I played against the women’s correctional officer’s team – as well as the men – because my step-father played with the men’s team.

My mom was … tough. She’s where I get my mean streak from – my fierce, mix-it-up, let’s rumble attitude.

My two sisters played … high school volleyball. And my brother played high school football. And I played basketball.

And then my Aunt Lisa’s … husband, Ricky Gutierrez – my uncle by marriage – played professional baseball, actually for the Indians briefly. So I got a chance to kind of see that firsthand. He was my insight to professional sports.

Growing up in Miami … guys like Andre Johnson, Santana Moss – all those guys were my contemporaries that I played with and against. So big-time sports were something that I’ve been around all my life.

I also played …a little volleyball and I played football. I was a quarterback and tight end growing up. But I made the decision in high school to stick to basketball.

My high school basketball coach … Jimmy Jones – no relation – said that I could be very good at both or I could be great at one. So I chose basketball.

I always had the dream to … make basketball my career, but I really didn’t think it was a reality until about 13.

I was a big guy … I was always tall. I was the youngest, but I was the tallest. So I was always the last to touch the ball.

Being so big, I was … playing inside the paint. And so I was a very skilled big guy, but I didn’t want to be a big guy. Because I saw, with big guys, as you got older and as you progressed up to college that big guys became small guys. So I started shooting.

I’d always been able to … shoot, but I started expanding my range at about the age of 13.

I had a big growth spurt … over one summer when I grew four inches. I went from 5-10 to 6-2.

That was a painful … summer. My knees hurt. My back hurt. My ankles. Everything. You’re just sore. I slept a lot and I ate a lot. You can ask my mom. She probably still has the grocery bills to prove it.

Balancing basketball and academics … was a challenge in my freshman year in high school, not knowing what to expect.

My mom, she’s the greatest, and she gave me some advice … that was pretty simple. I think I had gotten a C in Civics or something – my only C. And I told her, ‘It’s tough. It’s tough to handle.’

So she told me I had two options …I could quit basketball and get straight A’s. Or I could play basketball and get straight A’s. Those were my two options. So as soon as I figured out I had to do it either way, I buckled down and re-focused and really started to prioritize.

And I think it was at that point … that I grew up, because I can say between my freshman year and now, the only things that have really mattered are my craft – which is basketball – and my personal development – which was academics.

One of my biggest influences growing up was … my uncle, Donnell Johnson. I played high school basketball with my cousin, and my Uncle Donnell was one of our assistant coaches. He was always there for me. He’d pick me up at the age of 13 to play ball, drop me off.

Both my mom and dad … worked at the jail, so their schedules weren’t flexible at all. So my uncle Donnell, I give him a lot of credit because without him, I wouldn’t be here today.

My uncle was … big in my development because he took me to practice, he took me to the gym to get extra shots. When we had Saturday practices, he was there to take me to the gym.

A lot of people up north don’t know … that in Florida, because the weather is so good, there are very few public gyms. And outside it rains a lot. So my uncle Donnell would take us to auxiliary gyms down in the city or out in the suburbs so we could play indoors.

That meant a lot … when you’re trying to develop. Because up north, they have gyms so those kids go year-round. Down south, when it’s raining, you’re stuck. It rains for an hour, just enough to soak the court so you can’t play. Then the sun comes out and it’s back to business as usual.

It’s crazy, but I actually don’t remember …my first dunk. I’ve never been a dunk guy – even after I was able to do it, catching lobs and all that stuff.

I always watched guys like … Reggie Miller, guys like Ray Allen. And those guys were jump-shooters and they were able to play a long time. The faces of jump-shooters never go away. But the athletes who can jump and dunk change about every two or three years.

So at a young age, I never cared … about dunking. I can’t remember the first time I dunked. And I definitely can’t remember the last time I dunked.

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