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November 6, 2002

Hearing impairment won't hold back Jones

From: Manassas Journal Messenger, VA
Nov. 6, 2002


Some people call basketball a game. Anthony Jones calls it "the meaning of life."

The Dumfries native thinks highly of hoops for good reason. Ever since he first wandered onto a Washington, D.C. basketball court at age six, life's cloudy picture has been clearing up.

Because his mother was sick during pregnancy, Jones was born deaf. You'd hardly know it if you met him today in his professional capacity, but there was nothing easy about growing up with the disability.

Jones, staying at his grandmother's house in D.C.'s Rosedale Park, felt as isolated there as he was without his hearing.

"I had to make sure [my grandmother] was asleep, then I escaped," said Jones, recalling the memory. "I went to the park. I was only six. I remember that so well because I almost got killed by a car."

Jones says he crossed a one-way street and felt the vibration from a car's blaring horn. No one noticed, and he proceeded to the playground to watch what was going on there.

"Everyone was playing basketball," he said. "I started seeing something visual that I could enjoy, so I stayed until dark."

As Jones headed home, he saw an orange ball near a trash can.

"I picked it up and tried not to bounce it, because I can't hear and don't want anyone to take the ball," he said. "I walked onto the court and shot it like Sherman Douglas, and it went in."

Douglas, then a high school star at Springarn, was at the park that day. He went on to star at Syracuse and play in the NBA.

"That's how I fell in love with basketball," said Jones.

He got spanked when he first got home from the park, but went back again anyway, knowing more punishment awaited. When he tried to avoid a spanking, his impairment betrayed him again.

"One time, I fake cried out with a small pillow in my [pants]," he said. "She caught that my tone didn't match, and asked me 'what is in there,' then she got my legs."

Jones has since become Gallaudet University's all-time leading scorer and one of USA Deaf Basketball's best players ever. Basketball is just part of who he is, but he feels he owes the sport a debt of gratitude.

Jones, 32, has lived in Phoenix, Arizona for five years, working for the state as Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. He helps people get jobs, teaches sign language and is working on his Master's in counseling psychology at Arizona State.

Communication for the hearing impaired is difficult in a world geared for the hearing. Jones gets by with multiple methods.

He loves e-mail and instant messaging computer features, as many of the hearing impaired do because it puts them on par with the hearing. Jones owns a two-way pager, where messages can be typed and exchanged. He can use the telephone with the help of a relay center, which reads his typed messages to a hearing caller, and types what he or she says back to Jones.

He can also sign and read lips, and says he can hear 100 percent with some hearing aids. Without them, he says he's deaf.

"I speak a lot at work," Jones adds. "but social life with [the] deaf [is what I] prefer. I would [say] the same playing sports."

Athletically, Jones has done everything from soccer, golf and track to playing football for Gallaudet. He's led the Arizona Desert Fire to several tournament championships, including three straight USADB tournament titles. He announced his retirement in 1999, but returned this July to play for the USADB team that traveled to Greece for the world championships.

James DeStefano, the hearing-impaired coach of Gallaudet and the USADB national team, remembers Jones fondly.

"Gallaudet basketball is very weak," he said through an interpreter. "But with Anthony we were strong."

Jones averaged 22.3 points per game over a collegiate career (1989-94) in which he scored 2,225 points. He went to a 1994 camp that he hoped would lead to an NBA tryout. Though he hasn't found his way into the league, he made a name for himself with enthusiastic play on the deaf basketball circuit.

"Anthony is one of the best players ever," said Carl Denney, USADB's chief player representative. "[He's] perhaps one of its most controversial players, but he's toned down some lately."

Jones, 5-foot-8 and stocky, is active on the court, trying to talk other players out of their games, but staying within his. He's also active off the court.

"He's definitely one of the ones who goes up to people and hugs them after games," said USADB trainer Michelle Edenton. "He throws out his jerseys. He loves talking to people."

Coaches have liked his defense, passing and team leadership. But Jones' best quality may be his drive.

"His determination to be the best in basketball continues to be visibly obvious," Denney said.

"Anthony is the hardest-working player that has ever played for me," DeStefano said. "He's a very determined person. When he sets up a goal, he reaches it."

Those goals won't always include the sport Jones loves. He has a daughter in Chicago that he misses. He has dreams, some as complicated as someday writing a play to help educate families on how to cope with deaf children. Some are as simple as wanting to watch his nephew Cliff Hawkins, also of Dumfries, finish his basketball career at Kentucky.

He's got more awards than he can count, and a packet of past news articles about him. He's seen his name in USA Today, and he's taken the court with Donovan McNabb, Mike Bibby and Greg Anthony.

Jones still asks about the meaning of life, and he finds himself searching. Yet he keeps finding himself back on the court.

He still signs his letters "Basketball is the meaning of life -- Anthony Jones."

© 2002, Media General Inc.