Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)
If his parents dug up pictures of Michael Jones Jr.’s athletic beginnings, you might be surprised by what you saw. “Deuce” comes from a strong, long basketball lineage. His father, Michael Jones Sr., was a Pennsbury grad who played for Rutgers. His uncle, Gary Jones, played for La Salle. His cousin, Torrian Jones, played for Notre Dame and is now an assistant coach entering his seventh year at Delaware, and another cousin, Cameron Jones, played recently at Saint Peter’s.
But even with all that basketball in his DNA, young Deuce could be found in pictures wearing an oversized football helmet or with a bat in his hand. Michael Sr. kept the door open for any sport his son liked to play.
“Yeah, I wanted to be Tom Brady before I wanted to be LeBron James,” Deuce said, laughing. “I didn’t really start playing basketball until I was around nine or 10.”
The 6-foot-2 Trenton Catholic rising junior point guard has blossomed fast. The Jones’ basketball heritage casts a long shadow. Deuce has opted to run toward the shadow and embrace it.
Mike 'Deuce' Jones is the latest talented ballplayer in his family. (Photo: Joseph Santoliquito/CoBL)
“I started playing football and felt that it wasn’t me, and my mom and dad got me a basketball court when I was around 9 or 10,” Deuce said. “That’s when I started falling in love with basketball.
“My dad never told me he played. His friends would always tell me stories of how good he was and how much of a dog he was, and they’d say whoever my favorite player in the NBA was he would kill ’em. There were a lot of stories.
“But bring on that shadow. I know my dad, all of my uncles and cousins, they all want me to be better than them. It’s what my dad always told me growing up. My dad was a dog on defense, who brought energy and drive on the floor. It’s how I like to play. I don’t mind doing the ugly stuff. It’s what I was born to do.”
Temple, Delaware and Robert Morris have offered Deuce, who carries a 3.8 GPA in honor courses. St. Joe’s, Michigan, Seton Hall, Hofstra, VCU, Boston College and Penn have been in contact with him. He’ll play basketball in college. There’s no doubt about that.
“I want to show college coaches that I’m a winner and that I don’t mind diving for loose balls or playing defense in summer league games,” he said. “I grew up loving North Carolina, Duke and Memphis. None of them have contacted me yet.”
That may change soon as he keeps trending upward.
What will always linger is what he could do against his dad.
Deuce’s benchmark has always been his father. The two would go at it constantly.
That stopped when Deuce was around 14. He laughs at the recollection of thinking he was better than his dad. Michael Sr. had no problem exacting some harsh lessons under the stand-up driveway court held down by cinderblocks and sandbags.
“It didn’t go well,” Deuce said, laughing. “He never took it easy on me, especially on the defensive end. He was a lot stronger than me. He knew everything I was going to do, because he was the one who taught me those moves. I was getting older and I shook him a little bit. I was getting at him and teasing him that he didn’t have it anymore; that he couldn’t dunk anymore.”
Michael Sr. took one step forward and slammed it … then quickly reached down for his Achilles and limped into the house looking for a bag of ice.
“Deuce started feeling himself at around 12, 13 and I had to take him outside be beat the crap out of him (laughs),” recalled Michael Sr., who graduated Rutgers with a criminal justice degree and whose basketball career was hampered due to Osteitis pubis, a painful inflammation of the bone and soft tissues in the pelvic area, which forced him to play in a Velcro girdle during games and prevented him from cutting at full speed.
“When I dunked the ball on him, and came down, that was it,” he continued “I even told him, ‘My basketball days are done.’ It felt great going up and it was hell landing (laughs). I was out for about a month. But I could see Deuce beginning to develop then.
“I pushed him to play defense. That’s how I played, it’s how Gary played, it’s how Torrian played, and it’s how Cameron played. Deuce goes at Cameron like he used to come at me. Defense gets you on the court. Shooting and offense is great, but you see at the end of games, defense wins the game. The only way you win is when you shut the other guy down. We all played hard—but we played defense first.”
Michael Sr. played at Rutgers from 1989-93. He suffered the pelvic injury his sophomore season and battled through the pain of the next two seasons. He played professionally in the Philippines for a few years, but the injury curtailed him from reaching a larger stage.
“My dad could have made the NBA if he didn’t get hurt. I really believe that. Now all my uncles and cousins have put their knowledge in me so one day I might be able to make it,” Deuce said. “I feel I have to make it—for him.”
Deuce, says his father, is going to grow another three or four inches. He’s projected to be a combo guard, but Michael Sr. says his son’s true calling is as a point guard. His overall game has improved exponentially, with room to still improve his jump shot.
The Iron Mikes last season reached the NJSIAA Non-Public B Tournament state finals, where they lost to Roselle Catholic. Deuce averaged 22 points a game as a sophomore. He said he wants to concentrate this summer on being a pass-first point guard. He also stressed he wants to make better shot decisions.
He has opted to wear No. 2. The Jones’ family number is No. 24.
“Everyone in my family wore 24, it’s what my dad was telling me,” Deuce said. “I want to make my own path and that starts with wearing my own number.”
Joseph Santoliquito is an award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.