Aron Minkoff (@AronMinkoff)
How important is winning a championship to your legacy? How important is winning a championship when you are amidst establishing yourself as one of the greatest of all time?
Ask Archbishop Carroll superstar Derrick Jones, and he will tell you that it means everything.
Jones is one of the best, if the not the best, Class of 2015 recruits in the Philadelphia area, and is heading to UNLV next year. He has amassed 1,522 points in his high school career and has been bringing full capacity crowds to their feet for years as one of the city’s premier dunkers.
Yet, the 6-foot-6, 180-pound wing has never won a championship.
“Being invited to all the camps and all the all-star games and everything, it’s great,” Jones said. “But it’s nothing when you don’t have a state championship or a Catholic League championship behind you.”
After a historic four-year career at one of the most storied area basketball programs, Jones has not won a PCL, city or state crown. Carroll is in the same classification (AAA) as powerhouse Neumann-Goretti, who up until this year had won six straight PCL championships and four of five state titles.
The only year that Neumann-Goretti did not win the state title, 2013, Carroll lost in the championship to Imhotep. That was Jones’ sophomore campaign.
With his high school career coming to a close, he has one last opportunity to emerge a winner, in the Pennsylvania AAA state playoffs.
“It would be great for Derrick [to win states], he’s our all-time leading scorer,” Carroll coach Paul Romanczuk said. “There’s not much he hasn’t done in a Carroll uniform, there’s not much he hasn’t done on the basketball court, he’s done it all…but for him to go out a champion, I think he deserves it.”
(More on AAA: Check out CoBL’s bracket breakdown here)
Jones and his fellow Patriots were so close to knocking off eventual PCL champions Roman Catholic in the semifinals. They lost that game 61-58, after leading for the first three quarters and by as many as 11 points in the third quarter.
For most teams, that is the type of result that can linger on and question a team’s resolve. Romanczuk is not worried about that being the case with Carroll, though. He knows that they are battle tested.
“I think you just kind of move on,” Romanczuk said. “We played 25 games, we were in the lead of all 25 of them in the fourth quarter, every single game this year–maybe with the possible exception of the first game against Roman. So I think you just draw upon that.”
Jones is not in this alone, of course. Fellow senior Samir Taylor, who is in just his second year with the program is hungry to end his high school career a winner.
“I think we are a more prepared, we’ve been through a lot of adversity and I think we’re ready to come out fighting,” Taylor said.
Jones and Taylor’s last stand is of course without 6-foot-10 Temple-bound senior Ernest Aflakpui, who has missed most of the season with a torn meniscus. The only other senior on the team is guard Damone Jones who plays sparingly.
The rest of the team’s core is comprised of juniorsJosh Sharkey, John Rigsby and Ryan Daly as well as sophomore Dave Beatty.
Jones has taken it upon himself to be the leader of the team. He knows more than anybody what his team is capable of and what it will take to get to the level that they think they can play at.
“I feel like it’s my job to get my teammates, everybody on the right track to start playing good and play better and have the state playoffs be our best basketball to play,” Jones said. “You’ve just got to go out and give it your all. Just play every game like it’s your last.”
That is because Jones knows that any game could be his last in a Carroll uniform. He added that “I just want to go out with a bang.”
Romanczuk, of course, has won a state title before. He coached his Patriots to the AAA crown in 2009, with future Division I players Juan’ya Green (Niagara/Hofstra) and D.J. Irving (Boston University) leading the way.
“You know you can do it as a coach and you know you can drive a team to that type of success,” Romanczuk said. “The thing I take from that state championship run, we had some really bad practices heading into the states, I didn’t even know if my guys wanted to really give it a go because they were still feeling sorry for themselves. But they’re also teenagers and got past that, and were able to rally and play our best basketball when I thought that hope might have been lost there.”
Carroll will face off with the top seed from District 1, Octorara Area High School. The Braves finished the season with a 24-1 record.
For Jones though, it is simple. The final chapter of his high school career is coming to a finish, the amount of pages left in it is up to him. Another loss in a Carroll uniform and his terrific high school career will conclude without a championship.
“[I’m] just giving it my all, playing my heart out,” Jones said. “Just know that I did my best and I hope my best gets us where we need to be.”