Jones’ debut brightens Interboro’s loss to Sun Valley

ASTON >> Way back in November, when Wayne Jones inquired about his son trying out for the freshman boys basketball team at Interboro, varsity coach Billy Rowe had other ideas.

With a staff grounded in special education, Rowe took one look at Colin — who has Down syndrome and a steadfast passion for hoops — and offered Wayne a different path. He’ll be with us on varsity, Rowe said, on the practice court every day and on the bench as a manager. As for playing time, Rowe assured Wayne they’d figure out something down the road.

That path reached a touching milestone Saturday when Jones, a freshman guard, scored not one but two baskets, starting and ending a nonleague game with Sun Valley, in what went down as a 66-56 Bucs loss.

That fact occupied secondary importance to the throng of family and friends — about 70 in total, enough to sell out the Sun Valley concessions stands early — that packed the stands for a matinee between two sub-.500 teams playing out the string. Wielding signs and oversized pictures of Colin’s face, the fan section roared at every basket Jones made in pregame layup lanes (at a pretty healthy percentage). The spectators erupted when he hit his in-game field goals, Jones returning to the bench to a pack of high fives and hugs.

Showing he’s got more flair to his game than just red high tops, Interboro freshman Colin Jones (10) scores the Bucs’ first basket in Saturday’s game at Sun Valley. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

“It felt awesome,” Colin said. “I had fun. It was like Steph Curry,” his favorite player.

“He wakes up and he wants to go to basketball practice,” Wayne said. “He just loves basketball. And for Billy to help him realize his dream, it means a lot to us.”

The first bucket, a second-chance basket on the Bucs’ first possession, required a little coordination from the Sun Valley team. Rowe and Vanguards coach Steve Maloney work together at The Academy, an alternative education program based out of Norristown that tailors to high-risk and special needs children, so when Rowe floated the plan to trade baskets in the first minute to get Colin his moment on the court, Maloney was onboard.

With the Vanguards’ lead growing to 29 points early in the fourth quarter, Rowe seized a chance for Colin to re-enter for the final 10 seconds. This time, he made good on the first chance, swishing home a five-foot jumper from the middle of the lane to set the final margin.

Rowe’s expertise has helped Interboro embrace Colin, a relationship that first and foremost required the signoff of Wayne and Shannon Jones.

“The first practice, (Rowe) said, ‘alright, drop him off at 6:15, come back at 8:15,’” Wayne recalled. “I’ve never left him with anybody. And he just made us feel so comfortable, the whole coaching staff did. I can’t say enough good things about him.”

Wayne, who grew up in Chester, has long roots as a fan of the sport, so he was pleased to see Colin take a shine to the game by watching Curry videos, on television and YouTube.

PHOTO GALLERY: Interboro vs. Sun Valley

The sport has aided Colin’s acclimation to high school, a difficult process for any kid. Standing around 4-foot-6, the unbridled and often sloppy physicality of freshman basketball wouldn’t have been a good fit. Instead, Colin adhered to a regimented workout schedule with the varsity team every day throughout the season, accompanying them on road trips and developing friendships, among the closest with reserve forward Paul Munro. Colin has grown up alongside many of the current Bucs, so he relied on existing bonds on varsity this year, and Rowe effusively praised his players’ reception of Colin and their willingness to work extra hours with him.

The backdrop of basketball for social interactions has triggered a new level of growth for Colin.

“It’s very important,” Shannon said. “He’s around kids, and the way that the kids treat him, his attitude has changed. It’s just been a life-changing experience for him.”

Interboro freshman Colin Jones is introduced ahead of his start against Sun Valley Saturday. Jones, who has Down syndrome, served as a team manager all season and got to play Saturday, scoring four points. (Digital First Media/Pete Bannan)

The relationship is reciprocal, as illustrated Saturday. The Bucs capped a second straight 0-22 season. The 44-game skid was preceded by a 15-game slide interrupted in the finale of the 2014-15 season, Jeff Webb’s final game in charge. That sums to one win in 60 outings.

The defeats take a toll, as the defection of three opening-night starters by December’s end attests. Progress has rendered pain of a different variety — a five- point loss to Radnor, close games at half with Academy Park and Oxford turned into late routs, then Friday’s overtime loss to Chichester after recouping a 23-point deficit — as a victory appeared closer yet remained elusive.

Friday’s effort showed in fatigued legs less than 24 hours on, the Bucs missing their first 14 looks from 3-point range and finishing 5-for-29 from deep. Carley Jones led the way with 26 points — including 10 of the Bucs’ 14 in the first half — before fouling out. Tarjah Faikai, a three-year contributor playing his last game, supplied 11 points and eight rebounds.

Sun Valley (6-16) took control early and never let up. Vinny DeAngelo led the way with 16 points and five assists. Marvin Freeman hit four first-half 3-pointers for 14 points, while Tyler Ungarino chipped in 11 points and seven rebounds, as Maloney flexed the bench to offer minutes to a young corps he hopes will continue to grow next season.

But Saturday was all about Colin Jones, who gave back to the Bucs’ community a little of what they gave him. For many, the last image of an otherwise disheartening season will be Jones, decked out in his No. 10 black-and-gold jersey and his vivid red high tops, sinking his shots and being lavished with cheers in a campaign that featured all too little reason for applause.

“We have a lot of support here, a lot of family support,” Rowe said. “Their family supported us all throughout the year, through a lot of struggles, and his mom and dad were great. I think he deserved every minute he got.”

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