Feb. 14, 2001
Call it "catch-41."
UCSB's emerging freshman has come a long way the last three years on a
very sore left foot.
"It hurts still, but it's not as bad as it used to be," said Jones, a 6-foot-4
guard. "The more and more I play now, the more it acts up. But I want to
play. No pain, no gain, you know?
"I've got no complaints."
That's because Jones once wondered if he'd even be able to keep his left
foot, let alone play basketball on it. It took four surgeries -- three this
summer alone -- to get him back on the court. And half of a surgical screw
remains in that foot, where it will probably stay forever.
"The thought was in the back of my mind this summer," he said, biting his
lip as he struggled with it still, "that I wouldn't be able to play again this
After two painful high school seasons and a redshirt collegiate year, Jones
has been living up to the expectations that arose after an All-State
sophomore season at Oxnard's Santa Clara High. Every major college
recruiter in the West put Nick Jones on their early wish list that year after he
nearly averaged a double-double (18.6 points, 9.9 rebounds) for the CIF
He's aided the Gauchos' recent resurgence, scoring at a 13-point clip over
the last eight games to boost his season average to 9.2. His shooting
percentage of .459 is tops among UCSB's perimeter players, and he's even
hauled down 5.0 rebounds in league play.
oJones is a big reason that the Gauchos enter tonight's 7 o'clock home game
against Idaho with a three-game winning streak.
"His family calls him the Tasmanian Devil because he does everything as
hard as he can," said UCSB coach Bob Williams. "I love his heart and I love
his tenacity. I tend to have more patience with guys like Nick, whose
mistakes come only because they can try too hard."
Jones was always an overachiever, tagging along as a kid to play with his
brother, Robert, who was seven years his elder.
"My brother taught me the game, basically," he said. "He'd bring me along
with him when I was a kid, and I think I got so good so quickly because I
played with older guys at such a young age. Even if I wasn't doing so well, I
was still out there on the court, getting the chance."
He learned, especially, how to pick himself up after getting knocked down.
It served him well after the start of his junior year of high school, when he
dove for a loose ball in typical Nick Jones fashion. The result was a
fractured foot -- the Bill Walton injury, known officially and ironically as
"the Jones Fracture" -- and it eventually had to be mended with a screw.
Jones knew his basketball history, and it scared him.
"Walton wasn't able to come back, he wasn't the same, and so he had to
retire," he said. "And a lot of people were saying that I'd never be able to get
a scholarship now, that it'd be a 500-to-1 shot."
He said his strong faith -- he's a devout Buddhist -- and his family kept him
from sinking into complete despair.
"My religion really helped me focus and stick with it," Jones said, "with
basketball, and with life in general, because I was starting to feel like my
world was over."
And while he returned for the playoffs that spring of 1998, averaging15.3
points, he knew he still wasn't right.
"My whole junior and senior years, I had that pain," Jones pointed out. "It
was a stabbing pain, like someone was sticking a knife into my foot.
"It was real tough on the court, but the worst pain came after I'd stop
playing, when I'd go home to rest. I wouldn't be able to sleep at night at
times because it would be too much."
He missed more than just sleep, having to skip several of the summer
recruiting camps. Many recruiters began to lose interest.
But not Williams. While scouting Jones' Santa Clara teammate, current
Gaucho sophomore B.J. Ward, he fell in love with the Saints' gimpy
"We watched him at the Fairfax Tournament that summer, and Nick got
30-something against Simi Valley and then scored 28 against Fairfax,"
Williams recalled. "I saw how explosive and tenacious he was on the floor,
and the demeanor he played with, and I just fell in love with him."
Recruiters from around the country began to find their way back to Jones'
doorstep, but his mind was set. He signed with UCSB during the fall of his
"The main part was the coaches' loyalty, because a lot of colleges looked off
when I got hurt," he said. "Coach Williams and his staff kept going. They
were there through the surgery, and they kept me going. That stood out
big-time to me, because I wanted to decide before my senior year started."
Another factor was his family -- parents Fred and Laura, brother Robert, and
15-year-old sister Janelle.
"My connection to them is so strong that I asked them if they'd be OK if I
went far away, out of state," Jones revealed. "What it came down to was that
they really didn't want me to leave. Even my cousins jumped on that
"They stuck with me through high school, with everything that I went
through, so I wanted to stay home for them, so they'd be able to watch me
play college basketball."
UCSB couldn't believe its good fortune as Jones' senior season unfolded:
California Division 5 Player of the Year honors with averages of 25.5 points,
10.3 rebounds, 4.2 assists and 3.0 steals for Coach Lou Cvijanovich's state
But the foot still hurt, prompting Jones to redshirt the next season for the
Gauchos. And things only got worse last summer when he finally decided to
have the screw removed.
"The first time, they couldn't get it out, so they sewed me back up and
scheduled a second surgery with special machinery," he pointed out. "Then
the screw broke apart. The doctor left half of it in there, shaving the ends off
of it. The third surgery was necessary because the foot got infected."
Jones fought off the dark thoughts that clouded his summer, with a little
help from his friends.
"My doctor (Michael Maguire) stuck with me the whole four years and did
all the surgeries, and he was like another stepping stone for me," he said.
"He believed in me and stuck with me even though I'd go into his office and
tell him off, cuss him out, because I wanted to play so bad.
"No matter what I did to him, he'd still be there and give me advice, tell me
that this is what I really needed to do. His advice and my parents' advice
really got me through that point.
"That's why I think that whatever comes on the court now, I can take it so
He watched, perched on crutches, as his teammates prepared for this season.
Rusty at the start, he averaged 4.0 points as a reserve through UCSB's first
eight games before his 10-point, five-rebound effort two days after
Christmas emerged as the only bright spot in a bleak 63-59 loss at UC
Williams decided to start him the next game, and Jones hasn't been stopped
since. He's twice scored 19 points, getting 15 in the second half alone in last
Thursday's turning-point win at Long Beach State. He sank clutch,
end-game baskets on both ends of last week's road trip, scoring 13 points in
Saturday's victory at Pacific.
"He's getting better every week," said Williams. "He has a knack for
scoring. He has a great mid-range game, and a really good garbage game,
he finds ways to get buckets. He also has a much-improved 3-point game.
"He's been everything that I saw when I watched him that summer -- the
desire that he has, the internal drive," Williams continued. "He's really
self-motivated to be a player, doing the extra shooting workouts and getting
into the weight room. It's the same as Nick is about being a good student,
and about being a good son.
"He approaches life with that passion."
Jones doesn't know if his foot will ever feel right again, but it no longer
"I think it's prepared me mentally, and keeps me going to this day," he said.
"It just gives me that fire on the court. It's an outlet, because I went through
"I figure that nothing can stop me now. There's nothing that's impossible for me now."