Lakehead University's Joseph Jones led his team to a CIS Final 8 berth on Saturday (RM Photo)
TORONTO — In the last month, Joseph Jones has pulled a woman out of a car crash and kept the Lakehead Thunderwolves' finest senior class wrecking their final season.
The deeds don't compare, since real life is on a higher plane than sports. But finding out what the Thunderwolves fifth-year guard did a few weeks ago before seeing him sink a game-high 23 points Saturday when Lakehead, with leading scorer Ryan Thomson on crutches watching, beat the Windsor Lancers 78-64 in the Ontario University Athletics bronze-medal game? That kind of works on a couple levels.
On Feb. 9, Jones was driving in Thunder Bay with his mind on the Thunderwolves' game a few hour laters. It was a big one: rival Windsor in tone, playoff implications and Senior Night for he and five other fifth-year 'Wolves. His dad, Gilbert Lowery, and his junior college coach, Benny Edison, had both made the trip north. Then the Landover, Md., native saw a woman driving behind him go into a skid.
"I guess she overcorrected her steering," Jones recalled after Lakehead beat Windsor to reach the Canadian Interunivesity Sport Final 8 men's basketball championship for the fourth season in a row. "The next thing I know I saw her car take off into a ditch and do a couple flips and landed upside down. I pulled over and sprinted over there. It was instinct. No person would not want to be helped. So I rushed over there. I did what I could. I kept her calm until the police arrived. She was upside-down. We said, 'do you want to try to get out?' So the cop and I helped her out of the car."
The story might have ended there with Jones giving an eyewitness account to an Ontario Provincial Police officer. He played later that night. But the woman, who wasn't identified in the media and evidently didn't realize the person who came to her aid is a big man on campus, wanted to give thanks.
As Lakehead's campus paper The Argus reported, she posted a video on Facebook of Jones giving a statement to police, with the message, "This guy stayed with me while I was trapped upside down in my car, hysterically waiting for help. He kept me calm while we waited, and also helped me explain to our friendly OPP what happened."
"Would love to find this guy in the video to thank him,” she added.
Of course, the first law of Facebook is even if you might not wish to be singled out for something, you will be.
"I definitely didn’t feel like a hero," says Jones. "I felt like that was what any good human should do when you see someone in need. Initially, I didn’t even know there was a video of it. Everyone was texting me and calling me: ‘this lady is looking for you.’ I was like, ‘what are you talking about?’ This was like two or three days later. And they were like, ‘go on Facebook, I’ve shared the video.’ About 12 people had posted it on my wall."
Saturday, Jones was equally loath to take credit for Lakehead bouncing back from a 21-point semifinal loss against Carleton one night earlier. With Thomson out, though, he was the only experienced shooter handy. Once he started hitting, while sacrificing his lean 6-foot-2 frame under the boards, it seemed to spread. The Thunderwolves shot better than 50 per cent from the field — 29 of 56, plus eight triples. That was double their efficiency from 24 hours earlier, when they were 14 of 57 from the floor against Carleton. Led by Jones, they reached deep to make sure the most accomplished core to come through Lakehead in decades did not go out on two losses in a row.
"Before the game I wrote four words on the board," said Lakehead coach Scott Morrison, who recruited Jones out of Howard (Md.) Community College four years ago. "We didn’t talk much about X-and-Os. I wrote: ‘Toughness, confidence, teamwork and effort.’ I told them that for the majority of their careers, they’ve led the country in all four of those categories. I believe Carleton is the only team with more wins than us.
"I knew J.J. was going to come play today," Morrison added. "He got hot early and everyone started to buy in."
That fed into everything else. It was a tight five-point margin at half since Windsor was getting extra possessions thanks to its rebounding and 13 Lakehead turnovers. But the Wolves began feeling the flow. They gave it away only four more times after the break, with Jones hitting a big dagger three midway through the fourth quarter that took the lead out to 18. That was where Windsor was wanting.
"They got some confidence early and went from there," Lancers coach Chris Oliver said. "We had a lot of guys turn down shots early and it had the opposite effect. Nobody ever played free on offence."
Jones hasn't met many shots he didn't like. With a shooter such as him, the true test is how he reacts when it's not falling. On Senior Night, Morrison told the Lakehead faithful about what happened in 2009 when he first watched Jones in person. The ambitious young coach, who has resurrected the Thunderwolves by recruiting in the U.S., had gone to to the Washington, D.C., area on a tip from Edison, who was a contemporary of during their playing days in the Maritimes. (Edison's juco program is a bit of a pipeline north, since Cape Breton Capers star Jimmy Dorsey also played at Howard.)
Morrison then watched Jones miss shot after shot in practice.
"We needed everything because we were a bad team at that time," said Morrison. "And we were looking for guys with strong character and strong work ethic.
"That day I saw what everyone sees now with J.J. — he bricked his first 20 shots. He was getting a little frustrated, but he showed a lot of character, won a lot of the drills, 100 per cent. Then he was one of the most mature and nicest guys I have ever taken out for a recruiting meal. Sometimes when you’re recruiting in the States you’re looking for second chance guys or guys who can’t get a Division I scholarship. Sometimes there’s some baggage or reasons. But JJ’s never let me down."
Four years later, Jones is set to graduate in concurrent education from LU. He says he's mulling pursuing teaching or working in the correctional system. The latter sounds like a way to pay forward
"I like working with youth," he says. "I feel like the youth really respond to me." On Saturday, Lakehead responded to him, and that's why their season will go on.
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.